SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Leon County circuit court judge denied a request from a Sarasota business to allow it to require customers be vaccinated, upholding a state law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis banning “vaccine passports.”

The law “assures open markets,” wrote Judge Layne Smith. “Prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons to produce documentary proof of vaccination or recovery may or may not be a good idea. Notwithstanding, that decision belongs solely to the legislature and is subject to approval or rejection by the voters at the ballot box.”

Bead Abode, a hobby shop that closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, sought a temporary injunction so it could require vaccines when it reopened in a new location teaching in-person classes to its “predominantly older female” clientele.

Judge Smith found that despite complying “will significantly reduce its revenue,” the law does not abridge Bead Abode’s First Amendment right to free speech, it regulates conduct.

“Plaintiff can freely communicate with patrons, ask them questions about their COVID-19 status, request to see their pandemic-related documents, and review them if provided,” Smith wrote. The law “does not in any way prohibit Bead Abode or other businesses from making inquiries or expressing themselves.”

“Instead, it prohibits plaintiff from requiring its patrons to present documentation certifying their COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery.”

The ban on “vaccine passports” began as an executive order from the governor and was passed into law by the legislature in April.

A business entity, as defined in s. 768.38 to include any business operating in this state, may not require patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the business operations in this state. This subsection does not otherwise restrict businesses from instituting screening protocols consistent with authoritative or controlling government-issued guidance to protect public health.

Florida Statute 381.00316 — COVID-19 vaccine documentation

Smith referenced the recent decision in the Norwegian Cruise Line case, saying he has “great respect” for U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams but her ruling “may be persuasive, but it is not binding on this Court.”

“This case is a matter of first impression in the state courts,” Smith wrote.

That ruling found the law abridged Norwegian’s free speech because it “singles out documentary proof of COVID-19 vaccination” while allowing oral proof.

“Respectfully, the law often distinguishes between written and oral confirmation,” wrote Smith.

Bead Abode’s owner, Kirsten Boyer, was represented in the lawsuit by her husband, Andrew Boyer. In a statement, they told 8 On Your Side they haven’t decided whether to appeal.

“It’s too soon to decide on next steps,” the Boyers wrote. “The decision is disappointing but we respect Judge Smith’s thoughtful analysis and feel vindicated in that the order said we proved the ban will significantly reduce the store’s income.  We think other business owners would agree the ban is not helping them bring back customers or hire staff and is bad for small businesses like ours.”

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