December 3, 2023

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GOP-controlled Legislature heeds DeSantis call for Iran sanctions

TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature raced ahead to meet Gov. pitch for expanding state sanctions against Iran in response to its support of Hamas, the Islamist militant and political organization behind the brutal invasion of Israel.

The move Monday opened a four-day special session called by legislative leaders in cooperation with DeSantis, who is seeking to showcase the state’s backing of Israel the same week as the third Republican presidential debate from Miami.

A proclamation declaring state support for Israel and money for enhanced security at Jewish day schools also advanced Monday.

The measures aimed at Iran investments, which cleared House and Senate committees, broaden restrictions in place since 2007. These bar Florida from investing or doing business with companies linked to Iran in petroleum and energy, mining, power production and military support.

Under the new legislation, these “scrutinized companies” would be broadened to other areas, including finance, construction, manufacturing and ports, under the legislation.

Effect of expanding sanctions, not known

But the sponsor of the House proposal, Rep. John Snyder, R-Stuart, couldn’t predict what effect the sanction expansion will have on the state’s $241 billion in assets under management with the State Board of Administration, most of it in the Florida Retirement System, the state’s pension fund.

“The state of Florida is not in the business of funding terrorism,” Snyder told the House State Affairs Committee, which approved the legislation (HB 5C) in a meeting that lasted barely a half-hour.

“Is it possible that no new companies will be affected by this bill? And it would not have an impact?” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, who is of Iranian descent and voted against the measure over its potential impact on Iranian civilians living under a despotic regime.

Three other House Democrats also voted against the bill in the committee. The measures are expected to be up for full votes Tuesday in the House and Senate.

House sponsor: “We’ll be surprised by what we see”

Snyder said he expected some companies to be added to the list of those prohibited from drawing state investment money. “My guess is, if we expand the list, we’ll be surprised by what we see,” he said.

In the Senate, Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Miami, also acknowledged “it’s indeterminate,” on how many companies could be barred from Florida investments. He said about 70-75 companies are on the state’s current list.

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Democrats in the House and Senate also tried to gauge from Republican sponsors how Florida’s move was unique considering that the federal government has imposed strict bans since 1979 on investment in Iran or businesses associated with the nation’s government.

Few specifics were offered.

“Strong signal” a goal

“We’re taking the leadership role and taking the first step in making sure that we’re sending a strong signal that any company that does business with Iran, the state of Florida will not do business with them,” Avila told the Rules Committee, which approved the Senate version of the measure (SB 10C) unanimously.

In the House committee, some Democrats concluded the step was largely symbolic, although Snyder was reluctant to characterize it that way.

“We are sending a very clear message that when it comes to our $240 billion, we do not want to leave any stone unturned,” Snyder said. “If in fact we find that companies are investing in additional areas or additional sectors of the Iranian economy, we divest or encourage those activities to cease.”

Another presidential showcase for DeSantis?

DeSantis called for expanding state sanctions three days after the Oct. 7 invasion of Israel during an appearance at a synagogue in Surfside. Although Iran has denied knowledge of the attack on Israel, it has long supported Hamas.

“We shall use all available means to choke off money going to the Iranian regime,” DeSantis said at the time.

DeSantis, scheduled to take part in the third Republican presidential primary debate from Miami on Wednesday, has seized on actions portrayed as supporting Israel in the wake of the invasion.

Among them was declaring a state of emergency in Florida which allowed him to access millions of dollars in state funds to fly almost 700 Americans back to the U.S. from Israel.

DeSantis is far behind former President Trump in his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. And this week’s special session, coinciding with another debate, is seen by many critics as the latest attempt to give his candidacy some needed loft.

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Following DeSantis, Florida lawmakers move to expand Iran sanctions

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