Committee gives strong support to Sen. Tipping bill to protect individuals and organizations from frivolous lawsuits against public participation

Posted: January 25, 2024 | Senator Tipping

AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Committee on Judiciary voted in favor of LD 870, “An Act to Strengthen Freedom of Speech Protections by Extending Laws,” sponsored by Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Orono, with a vote of 7-1 with five members absent. As amended, the bill would cover “any statement made in connection with an issue of public interest in a public forum or other place open to the public [and] any statement made in a media publication” with anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)protections.

“Expanding anti-SLAPP protections in Maine would not only protect the rights of individuals and organizations to engage in public discourse, it would also promote a more robust and informed public debate on important issues,” said Sen. Tipping. “By better shielding people and media outlets from baseless, retaliatory lawsuits, Maine can create a more vibrant and democratic public sphere, lessen the burden on our courts, and make sure the justice system cannot be used as a weapon by the wealthy and the unethical.”

In August 2023, the Bangor Daily News published an article that tells the story of Northern Light Health and the 15-year-old son of a former employee. Northern Light Health threatened to sue the former employee for defamation when the employee’s son, Samson Cournane, published his concerns about patient safety at a Bangor hospital. Cournane started a petition and gathered more than 750 signatures, in addition to writing a letter to editor in the University of Maine’s student newspaper. The Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) defended Cournane. In the article, Samson says, “It’s sad to see a hospital try to stop people from talking about important things, especially when my concerns were about patient safety.”

In Maine, the current anti-SLAPP law provides protection only for individuals who are petitioning the government, making it very difficult to pursue a defamation lawsuit based on this type of speech. LD 870 would expand these protections for media outlets and public speech on public issues.

The bill now faces votes in the Senate and House.