Both Sides Urge Justices To Resolve Credit Card Law

August 30, 2016

A group of Florida businesses agrees the U.S. Supreme Court should resolve questions about the constitutionality of a state law that has barred merchants from imposing surcharges on customers who pay with credit cards — but the answer might ultimately come in a case from New York.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in June asked the Supreme Court to take up the dispute, after a federal appeals court ruled that the law violated the First Amendment. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law allows businesses to offer discounts to customers who pay with cash but does not allow surcharges for credit-card purchases — a situation the ruling likened to “distinctions in search of a difference.”

Lawyers for four Florida businesses that challenged the law filed a document this month agreeing that the case is worthy of a Supreme Court decision. But they urged justices to resolve the issues through a New York case, which involves a similar law and was filed earlier.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a New York law blocking businesses from imposing surcharges for credit-card purchases. That conflicts with the ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Florida case — a conflict that could serve as potential grounds for the Supreme Court to decide to take up the case.

“None of this is to say that this (Florida) case would be a poor vehicle. It would not be,” said the document filed this month in the Florida case. “But there is nothing to suggest that it would be a better vehicle than (the New York case). If anything, the robust record of enforcement in (the New York case) makes that case a superior vehicle. That record includes a criminal prosecution and numerous detailed and uncontested declarations from merchants targeted by the New York attorney general in recent years for violating the law.”

A petition filed in May at the Supreme Court in the New York case said 10 states have laws regulating how businesses can communicate price differences when customers pay with credit cards or cash.

Florida has allowed businesses to offer discounts to customers who pay with cash but has not allowed price differences to be construed as surcharges for credit-card users.

The challenge to the Florida law was filed in 2014 by businesses that had received “cease-and-desist” letters from the state related to alleged violations of the credit-card surcharge law, according to court documents. The businesses were Dana’s Railroad Supply in Spring Hill, TM Jewelry LLC in Key West, Tallahassee Discount Furniture in Tallahassee and Cook’s Sportland in Venice. The law says violators can face second-degree misdemeanor charges.

The businesses argued, and a majority of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, that the law violates free-speech rights. In the document filed this month at the Supreme Court, for example, the businesses’ lawyers wrote that Dana’s Railroad Supply wanted to “disclose the true cost of accepting credit cards” to customers of the model-railroad hobby shop.

“They want to put their sign back up without fearing criminal prosecution,” the document, posted on the website SCOTUSblog said. “They would like to truthfully tell their customers — ‘both at the entrance to (the) store and at the register so that there will be no surprise’ — that the store ‘will add a small fee onto the sale if they choose to pay by credit card, and that there will be no fee if they choose to pay with cash or debit.’ The other respondents (businesses) want to say the same.”

But in the June petition to the Supreme Court, Bondi’s office argued that the law deals with a “pricing practice” and is not a free-speech issue.

“This (Supreme) Court’s intervention is necessary to correct the 11th Circuit’s contravention of a well-established axiom of First Amendment law: Regulations of economic conduct do not implicate the First Amendment,” the petition said. “The surcharge statute, by prohibiting a particular pricing practice, is just such a regulation. If allowed to remain, the 11th Circuit’s holding to the contrary will obscure the bright line that this (Supreme) Court has drawn between speech and economic conduct and … will cast a First Amendment cloud over a variety of economic regulations.”

by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Volleyball: PHS Downs Northview

August 30, 2016

The Northview High School varsity and junior varsity volleyball teams fell to Pensacola High School on Monday in Bratt.

JV 22-25, 12-25 PHS wins
Varsity 18-25, 5-25, 8-25 PHS wins

The Northview Lady Chiefs will travel to Central on Tuesday for junior varsity at 5:00 and varsity at 6:00. The Chiefs will host Laurel Hill on Thursday, JV at 4:00, varsity at 5:00. file photo, click to enlarge.

Wahoos Beat Jacksonville

August 30, 2016

Pensacola Blue Wahoos Barrett Astin threw in relief and as a starter in college with the Arkansas Razorbacks and in his four seasons in professional baseball.

The 24-year-old freely admits he prefers the bullpen but you wouldn’t know it from his 11 starts with Pensacola this season.

Astin started his third straight game for Pensacola and threw a season-high seven scoreless innings to lead the Blue Wahoos to its fourth consecutive win, 4-0, Monday over the Jacksonville Suns at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The victory clinched the Blue Wahoos fourth straight series win and they are 13-5 heading down the stretch. It puts them just a half game behind the Mississippi Braves who are on a 3-10 slide, including a seven game losing streak, since the Atlanta Braves called up Mississippi shortstop Dansby Swanson on Aug. 17.

Pensacola, the first half Southern League South Division champion, is 34-29 in the second half and has its best overall record in franchise history at 75-58, while Mississippi is 34-28 and 68-63.

Astin said he feels comfortable in either role. Last year, he started all 14 games he pitched for Pensacola and 11 of the 16 games he played at High-A Daytona Tortugas to start the 2015 season. He was 8-9 overall with a 3.98 ERA.

“Really I’ve been starting and relieving my whole career,” said Astin, who reached the College World Series in 2012 as the Arkansas closer. “I prefer being a reliever. But right now this is what the (Cincinnati) Reds want.”

They may want more of right-handed starter Astin who ended up tossing seven innings, allowing five hits, no walks and striking out seven. He is the second Pensacola pitcher after Rookie Davis, who got called up to the Triple-A Louisville Bats, to win nine games (9-3) and Astin now has a 2.29 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00.

Pensacola manager Pat Kelly said he believes Astin has benefitted from returning to the Blue Wahoos this season. Astin was 1-4 in his last seven starts last year in Double-A for the first time with Pensacola and saw his ERA balloon from 3.48 to 5.63.

“He has shown confidence and been aggressive, coming right after the hitters,” Kelly said. “Repeating this league has been good for him.”

Astin agrees that a second year of seasoning has helped him develop as a pitcher. He throws a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup and cutter. Last night, he threw all of them over the plate throwing 59 of 84 pitches for strikes.

“I had five (Monday) tonight and threw them all for strikes, which helps a lot,” he said. “It gives me a lot of confidence getting ready for the playoffs. You want to go in clicking on all cylinders.”

Kelly said that Mississippi misses Swanson, who even though he was hitting .261, provided the leadership and defense the Braves needed.

“That’s a huge part of it,” said Kelly about Swanson’s promotion to Atlanta. “At this level one player, one batter can improve your lineup or really hurt it. He was only hitting in the .260s but he played solid steady defense for them.”

Jacksonville Suns pitcher Luis Castillo quickly showed his 99-mph fastball, striking out Pensacola second baseman and leadoff hitter Alex Blandino, in the first inning. Still, both Blandino and left fielder Phillip Ervin hit his main pitch out of the park just foul down the left field line.

Despite Castillo’s velocity in only his second start for Jacksonville, center fielder Brandon Dixon crushed a pitch into left-center over Suns left fielder Austin Dean’s head that drove in Ervin, who drew a walk, for a 1-0 Blue Wahoos lead.

Castillo was replaced after 3.2 innings giving up three runs on two hits and four walks, while striking out five. He earned the loss and now 0-1 with a 1.86 ERA. He had an impressive Double-A debut last week against the Chattanooga Lookouts, allowing one earned run in six innings.

Dixon led Pensacola at the plate, going 2-4, with his 22nd double of the season and driving in his 63rd RBI.  He now has hit in nine straight games and is batting .462 (18-39) with one homer and nine RBIs.

Meanwhile, Pensacola right fielder Sebastian Elizalde had his hit streak end at 13 games, going 0-4 and striking out twice. He fell one game short of his career-high 14 game hitting streak for High-A Daytona last year.