State Capital Buzz: School Vouchers, Veterans dealing with PTSD


A coalition of groups and individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the constitutionality of a de facto school-vouchers program that serves tens of thousands of children. The Florida Education Association, the Florida School Boards Association, the Florida NAACP and other groups are challenging what is known as the “Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.”

The program offers tax credits to companies contributing money that ultimately is used to pay for children to attend private schools. The lawsuit contends the program violates part of the Florida Constitution that says it is a “paramount duty of the state” to make adequate provision for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high quality system of free public schools.” Also, the lawsuit takes issue with the program sending money to religious schools. The News Service will have a full story later Thursday.

A federal appeals court this week upheld a jury award to a disabled veteran in a dispute about whether his support dog was too big to be allowed in a Central Florida condominium complex. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Ajit Bhogita, an Air Force veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2001, Bhogita bought an Altamonte Springs condominium managed by the Altamonte Heights Condominium Association, which prohibited residents from keeping dogs that weighed more than 25 pounds. In 2008, Bhogita got a support dog, Kane, that exceeded the 25-pound limit. In 2010, the association requested that Bhogita remove the dog from his unit, which touched off a back-and-forth about Bhogita’s condition and the need for the dog.

Ultimately, Bhogita filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, contending that the association was not complying with disability provisions of state and federal fair-housing laws. In January 2011, the agencies issued findings of cause against the association, which agreed to allow Bhogita to keep the dog, according to the ruling Wednesday by the federal appeals court. Bhogita filed a lawsuit later in 2011, and a jury ultimately awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages, and the association was ordered to pay $127,512 in attorneys’ fees. The association appealed, but a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based court rejected its arguments.

“The question we address is … whether Bhogaita offered sufficient evidence that having the dog would affirmatively enhance his quality of life by ameliorating the effects of his disability,” Wednesday’s opinion said. “Bhogaita produced evidence from which a reasonable fact finder could conclude that his dog alleviated the effects of his PTSD.”

source: The News Service of Florida