Florida on Friday became the first US state to outlaw pension fund investments in any companies doing business with Iran's energy sector or with Sudan.
Several other states have divested pension funds from corporations active in Sudan and some states have general policies against such investments. But none had anchored the action in law.
"It's not just what's right for Florida. This is what's right for America, it's right for the world," Gov. Charlie Crist said after signing the bill. "It says that Iran, the world's leading sponsor of terror, we will not stand idly by anymore. And to Sudan and the genocide that is occaurring there, we will not stand idly by and let that happen anymore, not Florida."
Crist just returned from his first visit to Israel, the only trip he has taken overseas as governor. He met with Israeli political leaders and discussed Iran, among other topics.
Israel and the American Jewish community are watching state governments and their divestment policies closely. Many welcomed the Florida decision as part of a growing national effort to limit investment in Iran to pressure the Islamic Republic to curb its nuclear ambitions, as demanded by the international community.
About $1 billion of Florida state money is currently invested with companies that do business with Sudan and Iran's energy sector, said state Sen. Ted Deutch, the bill's sponsor.
"The advocates for a strong and secure Israel and Middle East, both Jewish and Christian, reminded us that a nation that arms terrorist groups, trains terrorist militias, and seeks nuclear weapons to use against our allies and against our nation cannot and must not benefit in any way from investments made by our state pension fund," Deutch said in comments prepared for the bill signing. "Thank you for your commitment to a peaceful world.
While the state has about $134b. in its pension account, the fourth largest in the United States, the measure also covers an additional $16b. in Florida state investments.
Under the new law, companies will first be given an opportunity to stop doing business with the two countries before state funds are pulled. Deutch said the state should be fully divested within a year.
"Tens of billions of dollars nationwide are invested in companies that are making it easier for the Iranian government to develop nuclear weapons and to make it easier for Iran to produce weapons that are being used against our troops," Deutch said, referring to roadside bombs used in Iraq that are allegedly being made with Iranian know-how.
Many US states are now considering pulling investments from companies that conduct business with Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, all of which are on the State Department's list of terrorism sponsors.
Sudan, where the government and its militia allies are pursuing a genocide campaign in the Darfur region, has attracted worldwide attention recently with movie stars and politicians pushing for aid and assistance.
Last year, Missouri adopted a policy to blacklist the four nations from receiving any investments from its pension funds. California, the state with the largest US pension fund, has already banned its pension dollars from being invested in companies doing business with Sudan. A bill in the legislature there now would also ban state funds from being invested in Iran's energy- or defense-related sectors.
Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon have also begun to divest public pension funds from Sudan.
Florida's move has also spurred other states to explore similar legislative action, said Christopher Holton, vice president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.
"The Florida legislation is absolutely precedent-setting," he said. "It's a basic moral issue. Do we really want any of our investment dollars going to our enemies?... Doing business with Iran is like doing business with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan in 1942."