How often does a major piece of legislation receive unanimous approval? We're not talking about the designation of a state anthem or a state bird or the commemoration of a Cowboys Super Bowl world championship (it's been a while).

Even some of the most innocuous, ceremonial proclamations engender opposition for one reason or another, so it is extraordinary when a major reform bill sails through both chambers of the Texas legislature without a single vote cast against it.

Passed unanimously by our State Representatives and Senators, the Citizen Participation Act will discourage the filing of so-called SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) as a weapon to intimidate and penalize citizens who exercise their First Amendment right to free speech.

The bill helps protect speech on any matter of public concern in any setting and allows a defendant sued in retaliation for public speech to file an expedited motion to dismiss the cause of action.

Until now, the process of defending oneself against such a suit could drag on for months or years and become prohibitively expensive.

According to the Senate Research Center, "defendants who are sued as a result of exercising their right to free speech or their right to petition the government [can now] file a motion to dismiss the suit, at which point the plaintiff would be required to show by clear and specific evidence that he had a genuine case for each essential element of the claim."

The burden is now on the bullies, where it should be. We've tolerated abuses for too long. The misuse of the machinery of justice to terrorize opponents was a SLAPP in our faces, too, and it is fitting that the vote to put an end to it was unanimous.

Maybe now SLAPP-happy plaintiffs will think twice before trying to block the constitutionally-protected rights of fellow Texans. Those fearful of speaking out will now be able do so without worrying about being SLAPPed.

The legislature's unanimous action deserves a well done slap on the back.

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