PROVIDENCE – Thanks to legislation signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, the State of Rhode Island is prohibited from conducting business or contracting with a company that conducts business with Iran. In addition, the legislation – 2013-H 5620A and 2013-S 0521A – requires the state Retirement Board to identify all companies – in which the public fund has direct or indirect holdings – that have business operations in Iran.
With Chafee’s signature on July 11, Rhode Island became the 25th state (along with Washington, D.C.) to enact divestment legislation In so doing, Rhode Island also became the eighth state to pass a contracting restraint bill.
Almost three years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, followed by passage of the Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2012 (ITRA). These laws present companies with a clear choice: If you do business in key sectors in Iran, you are precluded from winning government contracts with federal or state governments.
These two federal laws allow states to pursue divestment initiatives. These laws not only opened the way for states to constitutionally pass Iran divestment legislation, but they encourage states to do so.
In 2010, the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island presented State Senator Joshua Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence) and members of Rhode Island’s House leadership with a proposed Iran divestment bill that Miller and State Representative Chris Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence) agreed to sponsor. In 2012, the bill came very close to passage.
This year, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin introduced similar legislation, which included the provision barring Rhode Island from conducting business with companies doing business in Iran. The sole exception to this prohibition is for the distribution of goods for humanitarian purposes.
State Representative Mia Ackerman (D-Dist. 45, Cumberland, Lincoln) was lead sponsor in the House for Kilmartin’s legislation, while Miller) was the primary sponsor in the Senate. While the Senate bill passed unanimously, all but two members of the House voted for passage of the House bill. This legislation sends a strong message, noted both Ackerman and Miller, to Iran’s regime, which has expressed intent to pursue nuclear capability and state-sponsored terrorism worldwide.
As in previous years, the CRC testified in support of the legislation at hearings. This year, two additional supporters, Consul General of Israel to New England Shai Bazak and David Ibsen, executive director for United Against a Nuclear Iran, provided detailed testimony.
The CRC testified that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran should concern all Americans and was unacceptable to the community of nations. Noting that a nuclear Iran was neither an Israel-only nor Middle East-only issue, the CRC emphasized that a nuclear-armed Iran would present a global crisis that must be confronted by lawmakers in Washington, D.C., U.N. diplomats and state and local governments, as well.
“[As] legislators, we not only keep a close eye on state business but international issues that could affect us in the future as well,” said Ackerman, according to a June 28 General Assembly press release. “With the country’s nuclear intents a very real threat to our entire nation, it’s important that we stand together with our president in placing political pressure where necessary. We must all strive for peace.”
“I commend the attorney general for recognizing the importance of cutting ties with companies that engage with Iran,” said Miller in the same release. “ I also laud my colleagues in the Senate and House chambers for … noting the risks of continuing business as usual with a regime that seems to ignore the rules of being a good global citizen.”
“Corporations and investors that do business with Iran support and strengthen a dangerous regime that is developing nuclear weapons brutally represses its own people and sponsors terrorism worldwide,” said Kilmartin, in the release. “Companies that wish to continue ‘business as usual’ in Iran should be subject to debarment from state government contracts. The prospect of debarment is one of the most effective ways to compel corporations to end their Iran business.”
Marty Cooper (email@example.com or 421-4111) is the Community Relations Council director.