With only a single dissenting vote, Florida lawmakers passed and sent HB 959 to Gov. Rick Scott. The legislation, signed into law by the governor last week, prohibits state and local governments from contracting with companies doing business with brutal dictatorships in Cuba and Syria. In 2009, legislators also ruled out public contracting with companies doing business with Iran and Sudan.
The U.S. State Department classifies all four countries as "state sponsors of terrorism" and 24 other states have enacted similar bans against using taxpayer dollars to enrich corporations propping up anti-American dictators. To most Americans, cutting off dollars to terrorist states is a matter of common sense and to many it's morally unconscionable to finance repressive states that do not respect basic human rights.
The legislation is consistent with the federal government's sanctions and a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Court, which upheld a 2006 statute restricting the use of public funds to travel to a country designated as a "state-sponsor of terrorism" -- in Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206 (2010).
Regrettably there are foreign corporations that feel they not only have a right to do business with whatever unsavory dictatorship they choose, but also to do so at taxpayer expense, i.e., to earn billions on tax-funded state contracts while simultaneously working against U.S. national interests. Instead of debating this bill during the legislative process, where it was openly vetted, a secretive lobbying campaign urged Gov. Scott to veto it. It propagated a phony warning that Florida will lose jobs if the state stops contracting with foreign companies that do business with terrorist states.
"Huh?" is probably the most appropriate response to the claim, but -- for the record -- the substance of that argument couldn't be farther from the truth. HB 959 is not a "trade bill," it's a procurement bill, legislation that defines who we Floridians want to profit from building our highways, bridges, structures and public-service contracts.
Whatever low-bidding company manages a project or service, the jobs at stake are all taxpayer-funded. Moreover, there are plenty of American companies capable of managing Florida-awarded contracts, while even saving taxpayers money in the process. For example, last year Miami-Dade County gave a Brazilian company, Odebrecht, a $57 million contract to strengthen the cargo wharves of the PortMiami. Odebrecht is one of the Cuban military's closest business partners. The county sought to justify its award by asserting Odebrecht was the lowest bidder. Yet, the lowest bidder was actually a U.S. company -- American Bridge Co.
The good news is that Gov. Scott signed the legislation and it will take full effect on July 1, 2012, heeding Florida's democratically elected Legislature's reasoned support of national policy and moral principle in refusing bids from foreign companies doing business with terrorists and their states.
A version of this post was first published in Florida Voices on April 30, 2012.