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New Fla. laws on academic, family travel challenged.

The American Society of Travel Agents filed a "friend of the court" brief in the ABC Charters v. Bronson suit brought against the state of Florida by 16 travel agents specializing in travel to Cuba.

ASTA, based in Alexandria, Va., argues that Florida's new Seller of Travel law is unconstitutional because it violates citizens' freedom to travel as well as the right of the federal government to conduct foreign relations and regulate commerce free of state interference.

"As an association dedicated to providing travel agents with an unfettered environment in which to do business, we feel this issue to be of critical importance," said ASTA President Cheryl Hudak in a press release.

"This measure places a disproportionately enormous economic and punitive burden on travel agents and, as if this weren't enough, is in direct conflict with multiple constitutional provisions."

The law went into effect July 1 but has been blocked under a temporary restraining order.

It requires travel agents who sell a trip originating in Florida to any country designated by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism--namely Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Iran and Syria--to pay an annual registration fee of between $1,000 and $2,500 and post a performance bond ranging from $100,000 and $250,000. Additionally, violators now face a $10,000 fine for not disclosing travel to a designated nation and would face a third-degree felony conviction.

A hearing to determine whether a preliminary injunction should be granted has been set for Sept. 25 in Miami.


Meanwhile, a federal judge has struck down the heart of an unrelated Florida law that would've banned state universities from organizing academic research trips to Cuba, calling it unconstitutional, AP reported Aug. 29.

The law officially targeted any terrorist state but mostly affected travel to Cuba. In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Seitz upheld one aspect of the law: state money can't be used for the travel.

Yet nearly all trips relied on private grants and only used nominal state funding to administer the grants, which Seitz ruled was OK.

The judge wrote in her opinion that by including the restriction on private funds, the state impinged on Washington's authority to handle foreign affairs.

"The fact that the act restricts more than 'nonstate' funds, demonstrates that the 'design and intent' of the law is more than just a state spending decision, but also a political statement of condemnation of the designated countries," she wrote.

State Rep. David Rivera, a Cuban-American from Miami, sponsored the 2006 legislation. He said he didn't want state funds going to support terrorist nations--especially Cuba.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in 2006 on behalf of Florida International University faculty and other state universities.

"It was a mean-spirited bill," said Tom Breslin, chairman of the FIU Faculty Senate, in an interview with the Miami Herald. "It was made to turn back the clock. I'm glad it's gone for the sake of academic freedom."
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Date:Sep 1, 2008
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