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House passes 'foreign language' bill opponents say is 'anti-Shariah'

After a contentious debate, the House on Thursday passed legislation that bans the use of foreign law in certain cases by a vote of 79-39.

While the  bill's sponsor, Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, couldn't point to any Florida cases where the law would have been needed, he called it a "preventive" measure.

The bill doesn't mention any specific foreign country or religion, and only applies to cases involving issues like divorce, marriage and child custody, but opponents objected that the measure is rooted in fear and anti-Shariah legislation.

 Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said the "the reality is that the model legislation which this was based upon was proposed by a gentleman who was nothing more than a bigot. That gentleman modeled this legilsation specificially as an anti-Muslin legislation. That's what this is. That's why everybody calls it the anti-Shariah bill."

Model legislation has been written by New York lawyer David Yerushalmi that reporteldy has been used in attempts nationwide to pass measures against Shariah law, a Koran-based policy used in some Islamic countries.

Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, said Metz's proposal "is not focused or specific to any religion, not Christianity, not Buddhism, not Islam, not Judaism or any of the numerous other religions of this world nor is it directed to any countries' laws." He said the aim was to protect "fundamental rights and liberties.

The bill provides that any legal decision or contract provision is "void and unenforceable" if it is based upon a foreign law or system that does not grant the parties the same protections guaranteed by the tate and federal constitutions.

Bill opponents said it could have "unintended consequences" that impact people from Israel, the Middle East and other countries regarding marital law, child custody and divorce.

Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, said the bill would cast the state in a bad light in the foreign business world, which could impact areas like South Florida.

"I am not afraid that our family court judges will be interpreting United States law in a way that offends the fundamental liberties of our citizens," said Rodríguez. "What I am afraid of  is sending a signal to the rest of the country and to the world that our state is not open for business."

The bill has one more committee stop in the Senate. The bill also passed in the House last year but died in the Senate.