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Judge could rule next week on 'vaccine passport' ban


A Leon County circuit judge could rule late next week in a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law that bans so-called “vaccine passports” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Judge Layne Smith held a hearing Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Bead Abode Inc., a Sarasota hobby and craft store. Smith gave attorneys until Wednesday to file additional briefs and said he would try to issue a ruling by the end of next week.

Bead Abode argues that the law, which the Legislature passed in April, violates the First Amendment and is seeking an injunction to block it.

The law, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis, seeks to prevent businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. Bead Abode has closed its doors since early in the pandemic, though it sells products online and offers online classes.

Smith on Thursday heard testimony from business owner Kirsten Boyer and Mary Reich, a regular customer.

Reich, who said she has a heart condition, said customers attend classes at the business and often sit “shoulder to shoulder.” She said she wants Bead Abode to require customers to show proof of vaccination and would not attend classes if she knew people might be unvaccinated.

The state disputes that the vaccine-passport ban violates the First Amendment, contending that it regulates conduct, not speech.

In a separate case, a South Florida federal judge in August sided with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings in a challenge to the law. The state has appealed that ruling, which applied only to the cruise-ship operator, at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.