Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Judge blocks ban on doctors' gun discussions with patients

A federal judge has blocked Florida from enforcing a new law pushed by firearm advocates that banned thousands of doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who had already issued a preliminary injunction last September, made her decision permanent late Friday when she ruled in favor of groups of physicians who asserted the state violated their free speech rights.

She said the law was so "vague" that it violated the First Amendment rights of doctors, noting the legislation's privacy provisions "fail to provide any standards for practitioners to follow."

The physicians' lawsuit, an ideological battle between advocates of free speech and the right to bear arms, has been dubbed "Docs vs. Glocks." The state Department of Health could appeal her summary judgment, which addressed legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Rick Scott.

In her 25-page ruling, Cooke clearly sided with the physicians, saying evidence showed that physicians began "self-censoring" because of the "chilling" effect of the legislation.

"What is curious about this law — and what makes it different from so many other laws involving practitioners' speech — is that it aims to restrict a practitioner's ability to provide truthful, non-misleading information to a patient, whether relevant or not at the time of the consult with the patient," Cooke wrote, citing the benefit of such "preventive medicine."

"The state asserts that it has an interest in protecting the exercise of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms," Cooke wrote in another section about the Second Amendment issue. "I do not disagree that the government has such an interest in protecting its citizens' fundamental rights. The Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, however, simply does not interfere with the right to keep and bear arms."

The state's latest legal loss follows a series of other recent setbacks in the courts, including health care reform, privatization of prisons, drug testing of welfare recipients, drug testing of state workers, and the shifting of pension costs onto state workers.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature adopted the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act in 2011 after an Ocala couple complained that a doctor asked them about guns and they refused to answer. The physician refused to see them anymore.

Cooke, the judge, said the legislation was based on anecdotal information and unfounded conjecture. Her decision was praised by the groups of plaintiffs, which included the Florida Pediatric Society and Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

"I'm ecstatic our challenge was successful," said Dr. Bernd Wollschlaeger, a North Miami Beach plaintiff, who represented the Florida Academy of Family Physicians.

"We're acting out of common sense, and this is a common sense issue," said Wollschlaeger. "My fear is the state will appeal and keep wasting money to fight windmills. This is an ideologically driven, politically motivated vendetta by the NRA (National Rifle Association) that has to stop."

The legislation was pushed by the NRA, which tried to intervene in the doctors' lawsuit. But the judge denied the powerful lobbying group's request, saying the state could adequately defend itself. Lawyers for the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence were also involved in the case representing the doctors' side.

"Guns in the home are a proven deadly risk," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center, said in a statement following Cooke's decision. "Guns kill eight children every day. The government cannot tell us or our doctors that we are prohibited from discussing the deadly risks posed by guns."

The Department of Health has not determined whether it will appeal the decision, but House sponsor Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said an appeal is likely.

"I expect the ruling to be appealed to the 11th Circuit (Court of Appeals in Atlanta)," Brodeur told the News Service of Florida on Monday. "But that will depend on the wording of the ruling. I haven't read it yet so we'll have to see."

The law says doctors and other health care practitioners "shall respect a patient's right to privacy and should refrain" from asking about gun ownership or whether people have guns in their homes. The statute also says physicians may ask about guns if they believe in "good faith" that the information is "relevant" to a patient's medical care or safety.

But the law doesn't spell out those acceptable circumstances, leading lawyers for the doctors to say it is so "vague" that they could be vulnerable to patient complaints filed with the Board of Medicine.

Lawyers representing pediatricians and other doctors argued that physicians had to impose "self-censorship" on health-screening questionnaires and verbal exchanges with patients because of fears they could face high fines or lose their licenses if they warn families about the risks of keeping guns in homes or other places.

Said Wollschlaeger: "Physicians just stopped asking their patients about gun ownership because it was such a dicey situation."

Comments
Another reason the Bucs took defensive tackle Vita Vea at No. 12

Another reason the Bucs took defensive tackle Vita Vea at No. 12

TAMPA — The selection of Vita Vea is a move the Bucs made for the present and the future. While Gerald McCoy remains a dominant defensive tackle, he turned 30 in February and is due to make $12.3 million this season and $13 million in...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
Bucs trade down with Bills, take strongman DT Vita Vea No. 12

Bucs trade down with Bills, take strongman DT Vita Vea No. 12

TAMPA — Vita Vea loves to tell the story about the trip he took to French Polynesia with some University of Washington students and the group coming upon some enormous rocks."So over there, their strongman competition is they have a tradition w...
Updated: 5 minutes ago

Softball: Freedom wins first Class 8A, District 4 title

PLANT CITY — Freedom went on a charmed run to reach the state semifinals in 2013.It was the last time the Patriots made the playoffs.On Thursday, they returned to the postseason, this time by taking their first district title.Better still,...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
After 9-5 win, Rays head back to Boston a different team: Hereís why

After 9-5 win, Rays head back to Boston a different team: Hereís why

BALTIMORE — When the Rays last saw Boston, they were trudging out of Fenway Park after a sweep by the Red Sox that left them with a 1-8 record that marked a very low point in their young season.They'll be back at Fenway Friday night, and riding...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

High school scoreboard for April 26

Thursdayís scoreboardBaseballPCAC Championship: Northeast 6, Dunedin 5SoftballClass 3A, District 5 Semifinal: Admiral Farragut 10, Indian Rocks Chr. 0Boys TennisClass 3A, District 9-10 Final: Osceola 4, Braden River 2Girls TennisClass 3A, District 9-...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
NFL draft: Florida Gatorsí Taven Bryan goes to Jaguars at No. 29

NFL draft: Florida Gatorsí Taven Bryan goes to Jaguars at No. 29

Former Florida defensive lineman Taven Bryan gave the Gators a first-round pick for the sixth consecutive year, after being drafted by the Jaguars at No. 29 overall.The 6-foot-4, 291-pound Wyoming native was one of the most talented players in the dr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
So many kind words on Raysí Jonny Venters, Matt Duffy close

So many kind words on Raysí Jonny Venters, Matt Duffy close

BALTIMORE — LHP Jonny Venters ran through some pretty good emotions Wednesday night when after battling through a series of elbow injuries, he made it back into a major-league game for the first since 2012 — with a four-pitch out and a ga...
Updated: 1 hour ago
NFL draft: Patriots pick Lakewood alum Isaiah Wynn at No. 23

NFL draft: Patriots pick Lakewood alum Isaiah Wynn at No. 23

Lakewood High alumnus and former Georgia offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn was drafted No. 23 overall Thursday by the Patriots.Wynn becomes one of the highest drafted offensive linemen in Tampa Bay history and the first Pinellas County player to go in th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bucs GM Jason Licht has assembled enough talent to win

Bucs GM Jason Licht has assembled enough talent to win

TAMPA — Another busy offseason. Another first round of the NFL draft. Another interesting night.And, through it all, Bucs general manager Jason Licht has looked pretty darn good.He spent the past couple of months patching his offensive line, sp...
Updated: 1 hour ago
NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

NFL draft: Chargers take FSUís Derwin James with No. 17 pick

Former Florida State safety Derwin James fell farther than expected Thursday in the first night of the NFL draft before being chosen by the Chargers with the No. 17 overall pick.James became the fifth former Seminoles defensive back ever drafted in t...
Updated: 1 hour ago