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Florida special session: Lawmakers target Iran with sanctions

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida House is poised Tuesday to pass a measure that would expand restrictions on state investments in businesses with ties to Iran, as lawmakers look to show support for Israel during the war with Iran-backed Hamas.

The House State Affairs Committee approved the bill (HB 5C) on Monday, the first day of a special legislative session, though sponsor John Snyder, R-Stuart, acknowledged it is unclear how many businesses could be affected.

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“I would say the take-home from this bill is the state of Florida is not in the business of funding terrorism,” Snyder said before the committee voted 17-4 to approve the bill, readying it to go to the full House.

The Senate Rules Committee later Monday approved an identical bill (SB 10-C). The full Senate is expected to pass the restrictions as soon as Wednesday.

Read: Florida’s special session begins Monday morning

Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders have rushed to show support for Israel — and to condemn Iran — since the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. The special session also will include passing resolutions in support of Israel, with House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, on Monday describing the support as “unwavering.”

The bill that passed the House State Affairs Committee would expand a 2007 law that requires the State Board of Administration to divest from what are known as “scrutinized” companies with links to Iran’s petroleum industry. Certain financial criteria are used in determining whether companies land on the scrutinized list.

Read: What to expect in Florida’s special session this week

The State Board of Administration manages Florida’s massive pension fund and other investments. Under the bill, the investment restrictions would expand to other types of industries, such as the financial, construction, manufacturing, textile and manufacturing sectors.

But some Democratic lawmakers Monday questioned the effects of the bill, in part because the federal government already has imposed a wide range of economic sanctions against Iran in the decades since hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

The State Board of Administration on Oct. 25 published a list of “scrutinized companies” in Iran and Sudan, which also is subject to state sanctions. The list included 71 companies, with none incorporated in the U.S. About half of the companies are incorporated in China, with others from countries such as India, Malaysia and Russia. One company is incorporated in Canada, according to the list.

Read: Disaster relief, security at Jewish temples & more: What to expect in Florida’s special session

“I’m curious, is it possible that no new companies would be affected by this bill and that it would not have an impact beyond the expanded definition (of scrutinized companies),” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said during Monday’s House committee meeting.

“I would say that if in one particular sector (petroleum) we’ve been able to glean dozens of companies that have been able to qualify for that list, my guess is that if we expand the list, I think we’ll be surprised by what we see,” Snyder responded.

Snyder also drew a distinction with federal sanctions, saying the bill addresses where the state invests money.

Read: Florida lawmakers will hear proposals to boost Hurricane Idalia, home improvement aid

“We’re not telling private businesses that they can or can’t do anything,” Snyder said. “What we’re doing is directing market-based decisions when it comes to Floridians’ taxpayer dollars.”

Eskamani, an Iranian American, voted against the bill because of concerns that it could hurt people in Iran. She described issues in Iran as “very personal to me.”

“I have a lot of family in Iran. The majority of my family is in Iran, and I cannot vote for something that could potentially hurt my family in Iran,” Eskamani said, her voice breaking.

But Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, pointed to Iran’s support of groups such as Hamas.

“It’s clear to me that the purpose of the bill is to make sure that we are not surprised with a situation where we are disrespecting and offending our Jewish citizens here in Florida,” Holcomb said. “It would be horrific to know that our FRS (Florida Retirement System) money or our pension money or other funds are going to a company or somehow making their way to Iran to support their activities. We have a regime that is an evil terrorist organization that funds other organizations that do attacks.”

All 15 Republicans on the House committee, Rep. Robin Bartleman, D-Weston, and Rep. Joe Casello, D-Boynton Beach, voted for the bill. Eskamani was joined in opposition by Rep. Ashley Gantt, D-Miami, Rep. Michele Rayner, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Felicia Robinson, D-Miami Gardens.

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