Anti-Iran sanctions linked to Hamas attack are speeding through the FL Legislature

Sponsor: ‘The state of Florida is not in the business of funding terrorism’

By: - November 6, 2023 4:51 pm

The Florida Capitol, January 2021. Credit: Michael Moline

Republicans are fast-tracking economic sanctions targeting Iran through a special session of the Florida Legislature even though the sponsors couldn’t say whether the measure would do any good or guarantee it wouldn’t boomerang and harm the state’s economy or pension investments.

The House State Affairs Committee OK’d the measure, HB 5C, inspired by Iranian client Hamas’ attack on Israel, in a little more than half an hour Monday afternoon, on the special session’s opening day, on a vote of 17-4.

The Senate Rules Committee advanced that chamber’s bill, SB 10C, later in the day in even less time. That vote was unanimous and came without debate.

No other committee hearings have been set for the House and Senate bills, so they appear primed for votes on the House and Senate floors. The full House is set to convene Tuesday morning; the Senate, not until Wednesday.

State Rep. John Snyder. Credit: FL House

John Snyder, the Republican House sponsor, representing parts of Martin and Palm Beach Counties, said the idea is “to send a clear message that the state of Florida is not in the business of funding terrorism.” It would cover “every sector of the economy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are not being used to upend peace in the Middle East,” he added.

Democrats expressed concerns about violence in the Middle East and Iran’s role in it; the country reportedly backs Hamas and other violent groups in the region.

‘Political posturing’

But they were skeptical about the need to return to Tallahassee just a few weeks in advance of the regular legislative session, which opens on Jan. 9.

“It’s political posturing. It is also something that the governor can say on Wednesday during the debate,” Michele Rayner, representing parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, who served as ranking Democrat on the State Affairs committee, told the Phoenix  following the vote.

The Republicans still remaining in that party’s primaries are due in Miami for a candidate debate on that day, although Donald Trump has no plan to attend.

“We were called into a special session so that the governor can look tough on Iran and tough on Hamas because he has a failing presidential campaign and he would do anything to stop it from flailing,” Rayner said.

The other topics on the special session agenda? They’re “really just to give them cover so we can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re just here because of Iran and what’s happening in Israel,” she said.

DeSantis didn’t formally call the special session, scheduled to end no later than Thursday, although House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said they consulted with the governor before convening the Legislature.

Consequences uncertain

State Sen. Bryan Avila of Miami-Dade County. Credit: Florida Senate.

Existing legislation forbids the State Board of Administration — comprising Gov. Ron DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, all Republicans overseeing the state’s $241 billion pension fund, to invest in companies doing business with the Iranian petroleum industry. Their names go on the “Iran Petroleum Sector List.”

Bryan Avila, the Miami-Dade Republican sponsoring the Senate bill, estimated that between 70 and 75 companies are on that list.

The bill would replace the petroleum list into a broader “Scrutinized Companies with Activities in Iran Terrorism Sectors List” that would sanction companies that after Jan. 10, 2024, trace more than 10% of their revenues or assets in the Iranian energy and petrochemical but also financial, construction, manufacturing, textile, mining, metals, shipping, shipbuilding, or port sectors. It also targets companies with single or multiple investments of $20 million or more in those sectors of the Iranian economy.

“If in one particular sector 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 at what we see,” Snyder said.

But would it help combat domestic terrorism? That’s not the target of this bill, Snyder replied.

Would it cost Florida businesspeople or state and local pension beneficiaries? Snyder conceded there’s no way to know yet. However, he added Florida has decided to divest in other areas “without adversely affecting our taxpayers” or the securing of the state’s investments.

Family concerns

Anna Eskamani, a Democratic House member from the Orlando area, whose parents immigrated from Iran, suggested that the bill says nothing about other bad actors.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, Credit: Colin Hackley

“Russia also supports Hamas, and of course Russia is engaged in brutal invasion of Ukraine. I’m considering why not add other countries to this expansion that also engage in international terrorism,” Eskamani asked.

Snyder said he was open to adding more countries to the suspect list but that “when we see news report after news report that proxy-funded militants, that, again, are being directly funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran are attacking U.S. forces, when they are funding the brutalization of women and children in a wicked attack on the innocent civilians of Israel, we are going to target the Islamic Republic of Iran with everything that we have.”

Eskamani said she wanted to make one thing clear: “It’s going to be a long special session for me if everyone continues to pronounce ‘Iran’ incorrectly. It is Ihr-ahn, not Eye-Ran,” she said.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.