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Judges would be able to dismiss frivolous lawsuits designed to limit free speech under a bill a Senate committee passed on Thursday. 

Supporters say House Bill 222 would thwart wealthy businesses and individuals when they file lawsuits used to intimidate, censor and silence criticism through expensive court proceedings.

These challenges are often called SLAPP lawsuits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. More than half of U.S. states have some kind of anti-SLAPP law on the books, according to the Public Participation Project, which tracks the legislation.

Louisville Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Democrat, has sponsored the anti-SLAPP legislation since 2019. On Thursday, she said it’s been modified to address concerns from both sides of the aisle. 

“At its core, this bill safeguards First Amendment rights in our courts and makes sure that everyone gets a fair and expeditious day in court,” Kulkarni said.

The bill would establish a framework for judges to analyze whether or not a suit is being brought to intimidate or censor a defendant, and allows for defendants to file motions to dismiss cases quickly. It would also require the losing party to pay the winner’s court expenses.

Sen. Phillip Wheeler, a Republican from Pikeville, voted against the measure over the provision requiring the  loser to pay court expenses. He said it limits access to the justice system.

“I believe that their motives in bringing this is good, but I have consistently been against loser pays,” he said.

The bill is bipartisan, and is co-sponsored by Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes. It’s also backed by a broad coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity and the Kentucky Press Association.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill Thursday. It now moves to the Senate floor. 


Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.