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Human Rights & Florida: Why just Cuba and Syria?

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Earlier this week, under the symbolic backdrop of the Freedom Tower in Miami, Governor Rick Scott signed a bill that prohibits the state of Florida and local governments from negotiating $1 million-plus contracts with firms that do business in Cuba or Syria.

It's modeled after a prior bill that targeted companies doing business with the "terrorist" states of Iran and North Korea.

The measure would have a major impact on our trading partners, particularly Canadian and Brazilian companies looking to expand business in Florida.

After pandering to the anti-Castro sentiment that has permeated Florida's politics for decades, Scott later acknowledged the bill was unconstitutional because foreign policy must be authorized by the president and Congress.

In signing the bill, the governor continues a pattern of approving bills he knows won't pass judicial review, such as the law struck down last week that called for drug-testing welfare recipients. Similarly, his executive order to randomly drug-test state workers has been ruled unconstitutional.

It seems that as long as the bills play well in public opinion, he'll sign 'em and let the courts figure it out.

Still, it was surprising the governor signed the bill, given the business community's strong objections. The Florida Chamber of Commerce argued it would discourage vitally needed investment and job creation from large multinational companies.

Against this backdrop, meanwhile, the fate of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped to the U.S. Embassy and asked for asylum, was being negotiated with Communist authorities in Beijing.

Chen, who is blind and a self-taught lawyer, is a human rights advocate imprisoned after accusing Sandong Province officials of forcing more than 7,000 women to have abortions or be sterilized as part of China's brutal one-child policy.

As the plight of Chen continues to unravel -- and be mishandled by the Obama Administration -- it's yet again clear that our biggest trading partner and creditor is just as much a dictatorship, humans rights violator and brutal regime as Iran, Cuba, Syria and North Korea.

So how come Tallahassee doesn't ban contracts with companies doing business with China, too? Why just Cuba and Syria?

Silly question, perhaps, because if there were a Chinese ban, virtually no country's business community could do business with Florida governments.

It's almost as silly as the governor signing legislation he knows is unconstitutional.

There are better uses of time and resources to advocate for admirable human rights causes than passing meaningless, unlawful measures that contravene U.S. foreign policy and discourage economic development by businesses from democratic countries.

Pushing for Chen's release -- and welcoming him at the Freedom Tower to a new, sponsored home in Miami -- would be a great start for human rights advocates in Tally.

This post was first published in Florida Voices on May 4, 2012

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, writes a weekly column for Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel and is a South Florida communications strategist. Email him at kurly@stevenkurlander.com