Florida Blocks Contracts With Cuban-Linked Companies

Florida Governor Rick Scott
Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media after signing House Bill 959 on May 1, 2012, in Miami. Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida would be banned from approving contracts of $1 million or more with companies doing business in Cuba or Syria under legislation signed by Republican Governor Rick Scott.

Scott, who signed the measure today in Miami, said in prepared remarks that the ban is aimed at “undeniably repressive” governments in the two countries. Scott called for help from President Barack Obama in enforcing the law and left unclear whether the state would police it.

“We must have a federal partner that will permit this law to become operative,” Scott said in prepared remarks. “I call on the Obama administration to introduce federal legislation that would permit Florida to enforce this important law.”

The measure may punish one of Brazil’s largest builders, Odebrecht SA, which is bidding on a proposed $700 million hotel and retail complex at the Miami airport. A unit of the company is renovating the Port of Mariel in Cuba.

Odebrecht’s press office didn’t answer calls seeking comment today in Brazil, where it is a national holiday for Labor Day.

Under the measure, the state government, along with cities and counties, would be banned from signing the contracts.

Supreme Court Case

William Reinsch, president of the Washington-based National Foreign Trade Council, a business group in Washington, said the state can’t enforce the law, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

The court in 2000 ruled in favor of the NFTC when the group sued over a Massachusetts law blocking government deals with companies doing business in Burma. Reinsch declined to say whether the group, which opposes trade restrictions, would sue over the Florida law.

Miami-Dade County Attorney Robert Cuevas cited the NFTC suit while advising county commissioners last month not to enforce the law. In his analysis, Cuevas wrote that the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution requires local governments to follow federal law when it conflicts with state law.

Brian Burgess, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment.

Scott said in the prepared remarks that the law is “designed to protect Florida taxpayers from unintentionally supporting dictators.”

“However, we must have a federal partner that will permit this law to become operative,” Scott said.

Joanna Rosholm, a White House spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Scott signed the legislation in a ceremony at Miami’s Freedom Tower. The facility was used to document Cuban refugees in the 1960s and is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Scott lost Miami-Dade County, the state’s most populous county, in both his primary and general election races in 2010.

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