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Hearing on Cuba travel law postponed

Hearing on Cuba travel law postponed
Posted on Mon, Jul. 07, 2008

After a few weeks of uncertainty, business dealings will remain the same
for Florida travel agencies specializing in trips to Cuba — at least
until September.

A lawsuit between 16 Miami-Dade based travel vendors and the state of
Florida was initially scheduled for a federal court hearing on Friday,
but it was postponed until Aug. 29 at the request of the state.

At stake is whether a law aimed at increasing state regulation of
Florida travel agencies selling trips to Cuba flies amid claims that it
unfairly targets a specific group of companies.

''The long holiday weekend would not have given us sufficient time to
prepare and provide a full and meaningful response,'' said Terence
McElroy, spokesman for the Florida Department of and
Consumer Services.

Sponsored by state Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican, the law
requires travel agencies who arrange trips to countries on the U.S.
State Department's terrorist nations list to post a $250,000 bond with
the state and pay up to $2,500 in annual registration fees.

Approved by the state Legislature in May, the requirements are 10 times
stricter than for those travel agencies that don't sell trips to Cuba,
or any of the other four countries on the federal terrorism list.

The measure was slated to go into effect on July 1, but was temporarily
lifted when the band of agencies filed a lawsuit in federal court on
June 30.

Last Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Alan S. Gold ruled to stop
enforcement of the law until both sides could present their arguments.

Since then, several agencies say they have been faced with the challenge
of making customers aware that direct flights to Cuba from Miami are
still operational and being sold. ''We have gotten calls from customers
who are unsure of whether they are still allowed to move forward with
purchasing tickets, but we let them know that everything is carrying on
as normal,'' said Armando Garcia, of Marazul Charters Travel,
one of the companies behind the lawsuit.

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