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Gift ban lawsuit thrown out by federal judge

In a decision that was widely anticipated, a federal judge has thrown out a challenge to Florida's "zero tolerance" gift ban law that bars legislators as well as other state elected officials from accepting any gifts or meals from lobbyists and their clients.

Judge Stephen Mickle on Thursday rejected all the arguments against the law, which took effect Jan. 1, 2006, that were raised by lobbyists Ron Book, Guy Spearman and the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists. The group contended that the law violated free speech and privacy rights and unfairly treated lobbyists differently from private citizens.

The ruling by Mickle is not a surprise because back in May the judge refused to grant a request to block the law _ which was passed during a special session in December 2005  _ and its requirement that lobbyists file quarterly reports disclosing how much they earn from their clients. In his latest ruling Mickle also rejected some of the technical arguments raised by lobbyists, including that the Legislature did not properly pass the law because it was not read three times before passage.

The decision doesn't end the litigation over the gift ban. Sensing that the federal lawsuit would be tossed out, a different lawsuit against the gift ban was filed in a Leon County court back in September. This second lawsuit, however, was crafted in a way to deal strictly with state constitutional issues so it could be not shifted back to federal court.