Legislators consider bill allowing for reporting on wrongdoing allegations

Legislation by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, that would allow continued accurate news reporting on wrongdoing allegations went before the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday.

News organizations, trial lawyers and other groups have agreed on updates to House Bill 1766. The bill clarifies a recent Texas Supreme Court decision and codifies what has been common law for more than two decades.

First Amendment attorney Laura Prather, a board member of the FOI Foundation of Texas, explained that under the proposed legislation reporters could continue reporting on allegations involving matters of public interest such as the 21CT contracting scandal; Texas Youth Commission abuses; and mistreatment of special education students.

Committee member Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, what would happen if news reporters circulate inaccurate accusations. “I’m not talking about whistleblowers. I’m talking about a liar,” he said.

Prather and Bryan Blevins, president of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, said that reporters would still have the obligation to accurately report on allegations and that the reporting could still be challenged under libel law. The “actual malice” standard remains, Prather said.

“You’ve still got that assurance that you can’t knowingly publish a falsehood,” she testified.

In the Senate, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, is the author of the companion bill SB 627, which is eligible for consideration in the full Senate on Wednesday.