Florida Imposes Restrictions on Businesses Booking Travel to Iran

Washington, D.C. July 8, 2008 – On June 23, 2008, Florida’s governor signed into law SB 1310, which imposes severe restrictions on travel agents and others selling trips to any nation that appears on the Department of State’s list of state sponsors of international terrorism, including Iran.

The new law, which went into effect on July 1, 2008, amends the “Florida Sellers Travel Act” by increasing fees imposed on companies selling trips to Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, and Sudan. Although any seller of travel that has a business location in Florida or that offers to sell travel related serviced to persons in Florida for individuals or groups is required to register under Florida state statute, the new law is significantly more demanding of sellers that engage in commerce with designated state sponsors of terrorism.
Specifically, agents selling trips or tours to a resident of Florida with any of the designated countries as a destination, must register in advance of the sale with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and pay an increased fee ranging from $1,000 to $2,500. In addition, the agent will also have to post a security bond with the agency ranging from $100,000 to $250,000. Businesses who fail to comply with the new law could face up to $10,000 in penalties and criminal prosecution. 
The law, sponsored by State Representative David Rivera (R-Miami) and State Senator Carey Baker (R-Eustis) easily passed both chambers of the Florida legislature on April 30, 2008. Rivera has defended his bill by stating that it “would cut down on travel fraud” and provides “greater homeland security.” He also hopes that it will deny resources to the Cuban government, which he states “collects fees for trips.” 
In response to the legislation, several Florida-based travel agencies filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida in federal court on June 30, 2008. The suit seeks an injunction on the law’s implementation, arguing that it is unconstitutional and threatens people’s livelihoods because of onerous bond conditions and penalties. Attorneys representing the state counter that the law does not violate federal statutes and only regulates in-state transactions. On Tuesday, July 1, U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold temporarily blocked the state from implementing the law and instructed both parties to return to court on July 11, 2008 for another hearing to determine the validity of the law.
While the Florida law does not prohibit travel to Iran, it is bound to have a negative impact on Iranian Americans and other Florida residents wishing to travel to Iran. Higher registration fees and bond requirements will likely be passed down to consumers. In addition, the new restrictions may prove too costly for some travel agencies, restricting their business in the State of Florida and diminishing consumer choice.

Due to its potential impact on Iranian Americans residing in the State of Florida, PAAIA will be monitoring the situation and updating its members and the Iranian American community at large on any new developments. We will also be exploring avenues for ensuring that the interests of Iranian American residents of Florida will be adequately protected in connection with this matter.

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