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Florida legislature forbids use of foreign law in state court

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida legislators voted to forbid use of foreign law in state courts on Wednesday, despite arguments that the measure was a cheap shot intended to insult Muslims.

The proposed law, sent to Governor Rick Scott by a 78-40 vote of the House of Representatives, restricts courts and arbitration tribunals from applying foreign law, legal codes and other legal doctrines in divorce and custody or child-support suits.

If parties wish to apply a foreign legal doctrine, judges would have to assure that both sides have the same rights granted by the United States and Florida Constitutions.

"There are those who believe that just as laws have shifted in the last 20 years, there needs to be reassurance that the courts will continue with existing law that Florida courts have adopted, regarding enforcement of foreign judgments and foreign law," said David Simmons, a Republican from Altamonte Springs, who wrote an amendment limiting the proposal to divorce and child-custody cases.

During a heated House debate, opponents said the bill was unnecessary and asked supporters to cite cases of Sharia law or other foreign doctrines being enforced in Florida.

The Florida Senate approved the legislation earlier this week.

Representative Jim Waldman, a Democrat from Coconut Creek, said anti-Islamic activists have started a myth about Muslims supposedly trying to use teachings of the Koran and laws of some Muslim countries, but that courts have rejected their pleas.

"This bill, this proposal, stems directly from a hatred of Muslims," Waldman told the House. "It's caught on across the country and many other state legislatures have dealt with this, and I find it reprehensible."

He called the bill "a solution in search of a problem."

The bill does not apply in corporate contracts between businesses, ecclesiastical matters or issues governed by federal treaty or international agreements in which the federal government pre-empts state laws.

(Editing By David Adams; editing by Andrew Hay)

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