Judge won't block Fla. law banning lobbyists' gifts

By The Associated Press

Editor’s note: On Oct. 5, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists v. Division of Legislative Information Services of the Florida Office of Legislative Services.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge on May 12 refused to block a new state law banning gift-giving to legislators and requiring that lobbyists disclose who pays them and how much.

U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle denied a temporary injunction and summary judgment sought by the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists and two individual lobbyists. The case now can go to trial unless the ruling is appealed.

"Many of the plaintiffs' positions are contrary to the plain language of the act," Mickle wrote, in a clear indication he was unlikely to overturn the law.

One of the toughest ethics laws in the nation, it took effect Jan. 1.

The decision was a victory for Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico, who led the fight for passage during a special legislative session in December. Lee and House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, are defendants along with the Division of Legislative Information Services and the Florida Commission on Ethics.

"The disclosure bill is an important step this Legislature has taken to restore the public's trust in their government," Lee said in a statement. "We will continue to aggressively defend this law because we believe it is the right thing to do for Florida."

Lobbyist Ronald Book said he and the other plaintiffs would decide next week whether to appeal to the 11th U.S. District Court of Appeal in Atlanta. The other individual plaintiff is Guy Spearman.

"Obviously we're disappointed," Book said. "The judge failed, in my opinion, to correctly analyze the adoption of the statute."

The lobbyists argued that the law, filed as a Senate bill, was invalid because it was not read three times in the House. The Florida Constitution requires three readings in each chamber on three separate days unless that rule is waived by a two-thirds vote.

"Because the rule was waived it was not necessary to read the bill on three separate days," Mickle wrote. "Plaintiffs have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on this ground."

Mickle also rejected arguments the new law usurps the constitutional authority of the Supreme Court to regulate to practice of law — many lobbyists also are attorneys — and that it violates the plaintiffs' constitutional rights of free speech and petition, due process, equal protection and privacy.