Senate bill would prohibit foreign law in Fla. courts

Associated PressApril 29, 2014 

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida would become the eighth state to outlaw the use of foreign law in the state's courts under a bill passed by the Senate Monday, although foes of the measure contend the action is unnecessary and targets a specific form of law called Shariah that is practiced in courts in some Muslim countries.

The bill (SB 386) would prohibit judges from applying foreign laws in cases involving family law, including divorce, alimony, child support and child custody, as well as disallowing some judgments from foreign courts to be considered in state courts.

The measure, which passed the Senate with a vote of 24 to 14, does not single out specific religions but the floor debate focused on the prevailing sentiment among opponents that it is aimed at stymieing the applicability of Shariah law, which is the law of the land in Muslim countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

In debate Monday, Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, who had voted in favor of a similar measure last year as member of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee, said she has changed her mind after hearing from both Muslim and Jewish groups.

"Although this bill appears neutral on its face, the perception is that it targets certain citizens in the state of Florida," Thompson said.

She added that the measure is "a bill that is not necessary, because Florida judges already have the power to apply Florida law and U.S. law in courts.because judges must treat all individuals who come before them regardless of their faith the same."

A number of states have enacted laws barring or limiting foreign law applications in certain instances in courts. Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee have adopted measures similar to the bill passed by the Senate.

The bill would allow not apply to actions among business entities or transactions involving international agreements.

"The bill does nothing to impede international trade," said the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla. "We want people to come to Florida from other countries to do business in this enjoy the nature that we have, the tourism events that we have. There is nothing in this bill that sends a message to anyone of another nation that is not positive."

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