Tampa Counseling Ban Struck Down

Oct 4, 2019

Today, federal Judge William F. Jung issued an order granting summary judgment to Liberty Counsel in its suit to invalidate the Tampa ordinance that prohibited licensed counselors from providing voluntary talk therapy to minors seeking help to reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors, or identity. Today’s ruling permanently strikes down the ordinance, which also imposed significant monetary fines on counselors who provide this voluntary counseling. Liberty Counsel represents marriage and family therapist Robert Vazzo and his minor clients, as well as the Christian ministry, New Hearts Outreach Tampa Bay.

The court ruled that local governments do not have authority to regulate counseling because it is the prerogative of the state. The 41-page ruling states, in part: 

“There is no grant of authority by the Florida Legislature to municipalities to substantively regulate healthcare treatment and discipline.” 

“The City has never before substantively regulated and disciplined the practice of medicine, psychotherapy, or mental health treatment within City limits. Nor does the City possess charter or home rule authority to do so. The City Ordinance is preempted by the comprehensive Florida regulatory scheme for healthcare regulation and discipline. Accordingly, the Court strikes the Ordinance under the implied preemption doctrine and grants the Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on Count VI.” 

“The State statutory scheme for healthcare regulation leaves nothing substantive at all for municipalities to do; there is no grant or delegation at all to localities.” 

“To say that the State of Florida’s regime of healthcare regulations is vast is an understatement. There seems nothing more regulated and addressed by the Florida legislative and administrative body than healthcare, and a material part of this is mental health related. In addition to its breadth and depth, this Florida regulatory scheme is uniform across each of the 400 plus municipalities in the State. In contrast, the Tampa Ordinance covers only the 114 square miles of city limits, leaving the substantive mental health therapy rules to vary depending which of the 400 plus Florida municipalities one is in, or even where one is within Hillsborough County.” 

“Nothing is more intimate, more private, and more sensitive, than a growing young man or woman talking to a mental health therapist about sex, gender, preferences, and conflicting feelings. The Ordinance inserts the City’s code enforcers into the middle of this sensitive, intense and private moment. But this moment is already governed by Florida’s very broad rights of privacy, something the Ordinance ignores…The Florida Constitution’s privacy amendment suggests that government should stay out of the therapy room. The Tampa Ordinance does not address this constitutional issue, and in doing so the City attempts to occupy a very private space, contrary to a strong statewide policy.” 

“The Ordinance eliminates this longstanding parental right without discussion or exception—Florida already occupied this ground. Parental rights, which the Florida Supreme Court has noted are fundamental and protected by the state constitution,11 are reduced or increased within Hillsborough County, Florida, depending on whether one steps across the Tampa city line or not.”

“All of these topics such as constitutional privacy rights, parental choice, patient choice as to treatment, and the availability of non-conventional or alternative treatments show that the Legislature has occupied entirely the very wide healthcare swath, whether it is called ‘informed consent’ or ‘patient’s rights.’ No room exists in this pervasive and uniform statewide program for the more than four-hundred Florida municipalities to regulate where legislative intent resides so broadly.”


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