A lawmaker who has proposed loosening the state's defamation laws says he will make another attempt to get his bill passed after it failed to gain traction in committee Monday.
Senate Bill 230, which would codify a path for "invasion of privacy" lawsuits, currently awaits action in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A motion to advance the bill failed Monday for lack of a second after a lengthy exchange, in which several lawmakers expressed frustration with the media's coverage of them.
Since no vote was taken, the bill was officially recorded as having no action taken on it.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Tuesday that he planned to amend the bill and return it for another vote, possibly as early as today.
While a copy of Hammer's amendment was not available Tuesday, the senator said it would clarify that individuals and media outlets would be subject to lawsuits if they continue to disseminate defamatory material after being informed that the information is false.
Hammer's legislation was drafted in consultation with Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law. The pair said Monday that the bill was conceived, in part, after a confrontation between a group of Kentucky high school students and an American Indian marcher outside of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The encounter was caught on video and was subsequently covered by many national media outlets. Later videos offering a wider perspective of the event led to criticism that media outlets had falsely vilified the boys' actions.
The Arkansas Press Association and Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor David Bailey spoke against the bill Monday, saying it would open individuals as well as the media to lawsuits for actions that are outside of current defamation protections.
Steinbuch said that, while he agreed that SB230 would expand the current liabilities for "false light" or defamation claims in Arkansas, such provisions were necessary to protect individuals' reputations.
"This makes it statutory and does clarify and somewhat change [the law]," Steinbuch told the committee Monday.
Debate over the bill Monday also gave lawmakers an opening to air their grievances with how the media had covered them.
"I'm not very disposed to be friendly today," said committee chairman Sen. Alan Clark, R-Londsdale, explaining that much of his frustration stemmed from television news reports that he said had mischaracterized a bill he filed that would tie certain school funding with performance.
Clark said some TV stations had erroneously reported that his bill would have cut funding for school lunch programs -- such funding is doled out by the federal government -- and that not all had corrected themselves after he notified them of the error.
Clark's story led to a discussion in the committee about how media outlets are liable for failing to correct information, as well as Hammer's planned amendment for the bill.
"That's covered under the common law," said John Tull, a counsel for the Arkansas Press Association.
Since a written amendment was unavailable Tuesday, Tull said the association would not take an official position on it.
Speaking generally, Tull said that First Amendment law has usually been crafted through years of Arkansas and U.S. Supreme Court precedents, not laws written by the Legislature.
"There are a lot of nuances in it," Tull said. "It's hard to capture all of the potential factual information."
Hammer said Tuesday that he had talked to several committee members afterward and felt that his amendment would be enough to gain the support needed to pass SB230 on to the full Senate.
Only one member of the committee, Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, moved to pass SB230 on Monday. Others, while expressing frustrations with the media, said they had concerns that the bill would go too far in limiting speech.
It will take five favorable votes to move the bill out of committee.
Metro on 03/13/2019
Print Headline: Arkansas senator plans tweak, refloat of privacy bill