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Do you support a Florida law that would ban state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba?
Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
The Florida Legislature overwhelmingly approved such a bill. On Tuesday Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law but issued a letter saying it's not operative until federal legislation is passed. Critics say the law will hurt Florida's economy and lead to a costly court battle over its constitutionality. Supporters dismiss the fear of job losses and contend the ban upholds a moral principle against doing business with terrorist regimes.
Mauricio Claver-Carone
Director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and editor of CapitolHillCubans.com

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 on Tuesday, 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 on Tuesday, 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.

Mauricio Claver-Carone is also an attorney who formerly served with the U.S. Department of the Treasury and has served on the full-time faculty of The Catholic University of America's School of Law and adjunct faculty of The George Washington University's National Law Center.

Rich Bard's picture
Rich Bard
Associate Editor

On Tuesday Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill approved earlier by the Florida Legislature to ban state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba. He signed the legislation, HB 959, during a visit to South Florida. However, he surprised supporters of the measure by issuing a letter saying the law is inoperative until the federal government passes new legislation. According to The Miami Herald, he told Miami radio station WQBA-AM before the signing, "The way it works is, it's not operative until the federal government passes legislation."

At least four of Florida’s newspapers – the Tampa Bay Times, The Tampa Tribune, the Bradenton Herald, and The Miami Herald – had editorialized against the legislation, with some urging a veto by the governor. They cited a likely court battle over the legislation’s constitutionality and a negative impact on Florida’s business interests.

“Armchair patriots trolling for votes from hard-liners in Miami’s Cuban-American community continue to put Florida on the wrong side of history,” wrote the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg. “A bill the Legislature passed on the final day of the 2012 regular session bars companies that do business in Cuba from getting work from the state or local government. This is another case of pandering and overreach that will only cost taxpayers a bruising court battle.”

The Tampa Bay Times went on to say that legislators, sensing they stood on shaky legal ground, included “weasel language in the bill that gives state and local officials the latitude to make exceptions on a case-by-case basis. That says it all. Dealing with companies in Cuba is reprehensible except when it’s not.”

“While Cuba’s despotic Castro regime continues to merit condemnation,” the Bradenton Herald wrote in an editorial, “Florida cannot conduct foreign policy and supersede federal authority as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet the Legislature adopted a political piece of legislation that purports to punish Cuba’s trading partners but will instead maul Florida’s economy.”

The Tampa Tribune’s editorial said, “If it does anything at all, the new restriction would reduce competition and raise costs for local taxpayers. It would add a layer of complexity to projects by requiring bidders to submit paperwork … concerning their foreign business.” It added, “Local governments should not have to worry about who is selling what to whom.”

“This is no defense of Cuba’s despotic dictatorship, but it is clear Tallahassee is meddling with foreign policy that is constitutionally solely the purview of Washington,” a Miami Herald editorial stated. It concluded that “Signing it would contradict the governor’s claim that ‘Florida is open for business.’ ”

On March 21, Miami-Dade’s county attorney, Robert A. Cuevas Jr., issued a legal opinion concluding that HB 959’s amendments referring to Cuba are “inoperative as to Miami-Dade County until such time as the federal government expressly authorizes states to enact such prohibitions or a federal court finds that HB 959 is constitutional.”

Cuevas added that “under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, in the event of a conflict between the federal law and those of the state, [Miami-Dade County] is obligated to follow federal law. If [Miami-Dade County] were to violate federal law in this area, it would be exposed to liability under federal civil rights laws.”

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by Dr. Radut.