Andrade’s Defamation Bill Heads to House Floor for Vote

Posted on February 22, 2024 by Romi White

Florida House District 2 Representative Alex Andrade on Wednesday appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, which in a 14-7 vote approved an amended version of legislation he sponsored aimed to make it easier for elected officials to sue media outlets for defamation.

House Bill 757 is now headed to the House floor for a vote – despite opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, media outlets and others.

“Shocking. Media outlets and their attorneys are afraid that a bill that protects your reputation and recognizes that your reputation has value, (they) don’t want it to pass,” Andrade told the committee.

Chris Smith, owner of Gulf Coast Gun & Outdoors in Milton, also addressed the committee yesterday, opposing the legislation and complaining that Andrade’s law firm is representing Santa Rosa County Commissioner Sam Parker, who is suing Smith and the business for using his likeness in “uniformly derogatory” sales promotions.

Andrade, an attorney by trade, pointed out Smith’s case is being handled by another attorney at the firm. Andrade told the committee he has nothing to do with Smith’s case and that case does not involve defamation but rather the alleged improper usage of a person’s likeness in commercial advertising.

HB 757 would create a legal presumption that a media outlet, relying upon information from an anonymous source which turns out to be false, acted with “actual malice,” a legal standard for defamation established by the 1964 Supreme Court ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan.

The approved amended version of the bill addressed where related lawsuits could be filed, following concerns that it would allow plaintiffs to “forum shop” for a court or judge that might favor their case.

The Senate version of the defamation bill, SB 1780, must get approved by the Fiscal Policy Committee before going up for a full vote.