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Ohio Senate Passes Gavarone and Manning Bill Protecting First Amendment Rights

June 12, 2024
Theresa Gavarone News

COLUMBUS—The Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 237, which protects the First Amendment rights of Ohioans. The legislation, sponsored by State Senator Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) and State Senator Nathan Manning (R-North Ridgeville), creates a judicial process to prevent meritless lawsuits that attempt to intimidate individuals for exercising their Constitutional rights.

Senate Bill 237 specifically will prevent Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which aim to stop a person or group from using their First Amendment rights when discussing public issues. SLAPP lawsuits are often time-consuming and expensive for the person or organization being sued. The average cost of defending one of these cases is $39,000, but can often skyrocket into the six figures or even millions. 

"It's critical we protect your basic right to freedom of speech, which is under attack by lawsuits that burden Ohioans with high legal fees and overwhelming stress," Gavarone said. "We heard numerous stories in committee from people who suffered because of these cases. Senate Bill 237 aims to stop these lawsuits from harming more people's lives."

Senate Bill 237 creates an expedited process for individuals engaging in speech protected by the U.S Constitution to have these lawsuits dismissed if they meet the criteria of a SLAPP case. The bill also allows a defendant to recoup attorney fees and other court fees if the case is dismissed, removing the financial burden of SLAPP cases.

"The focus of this legislation is to establish a way for fast judicial relief, getting meritless cases out of the courts and out of the way for defendants," Manning said. "Throughout our process, we heard from individuals, including domestic violence victims, about the detrimental effects of these lawsuits on their lives. Senate Bill 237 will benefit Ohio’s justice system and those who are wrongly impacted by these harmful suits."

33 states and the District of Columbia have anti-SLAPP laws in place. Six of these states follow the model in S.B. 237, which was established by the Uniform Law Commission, and nine others have similar legislation pending. 

Senate Bill 237 now goes to the Ohio House for consideration.