SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Sarasota hobby store is suing the Florida Department of Health over the state’s ban on businesses requiring vaccines for their customers.
Bead Abode, a retail & hobby store offered group instruction classes on making jewelry, closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Ever since, owner Kirsten Boyer has been offering classes online and web orders for its products.
The business has recently relocated to a newer, bigger location in hopes of reopening with in-person classes again, which Boyer says makes up 50 percent of her revenue.
In an evidentiary hearing in the case Thursday, Boyer testified that her mostly older female customers tell her they don’t feel safe sitting next to unvaccinated people for hours.
“I want my customers to feel safe, I want to feel safe, and I want my employees to feel safe,” Boyer told Judge Layne Smith.
“I would not be comfortable,” customer Mary Reich testified. “I would not return to a social situation there if I knew people were unvaccinated. If I knew you were checking vaccinations at the door? Yes, I would go back, but I’m not going to concerts, I’m not going to church, I’m not going to the theater, I’m not doing any of those things where I’m in close proximity to people if I don’t know if they’re vaccinated.”
Much of Bead Abode’s complaint rested on the same arguments made by Norwegian Cruise Lines in its federal lawsuit against Florida’s new law, which went into effect July 1. The state began penalizing businesses in earnest in mid-September.
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(1) — COVID-19 vaccine documentation
In that case, U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ruled the state law is unconstitutional.
Andrew Boyer is the plaintiff’s attorney, and her husband. His initial complaint argued the state’s law is ‘content-based’ in the type of activity it deems unlawful because it “singles out specific subject matter for differential treatment” — and therefore “presumptively unconstitutional.”
Attorneys for the state argued that the First Amendment is not applicable, because the law regulates conduct, not speech.
“The provision…ultimately requires owners to serve patrons no matter their vaccination documentation,” the state wrote in its response to Bead Abode’s initial complaint and request for emergency injunctive relief. “An owner who asks a patron whether he or she is vaccinated (and even asks if the patron can provide proof) acts consistent with the law; a violation occurs only when the patron responds in the negative and the owner, in turn, refuses to provide services.”
Judge Smith heard arguments from both sides, including two witnesses for the plaintiffs, before explaining to both sides that his docket is full until mid-next week.
Smith admitted the case rests on this question — whether the law regulates conduct or infringes on ‘free speech’ — and asked for their best arguments in short briefs due next Wednesday, saying he will rule quickly in the days after.