MIAMI — Gov. Rick Scott has started retreating from a controversial statement that a Cuba-crackdown bill he signed Tuesday was unenforceable.
In a written statement, Scott now acknowledges that the law will go into effect. And he reiterated his support for it — even though he thinks it might not survive a legal challenge.
"Constitutional lawyers have told me that this legislation will be challenged in court. I signed the bill regardless of that fact, and it will become a state law on July 1, 2012," he wrote. "As Governor, it is my sworn duty to uphold the laws of the state and I will meet any challenge to this law in court as necessary."
Scott's move was a peace offering of sorts to Miami's Cuban-American lawmakers, who were incensed when he signed the bill into law at the Freedom Tower — only to issue a letter afterward that suggested the law is unconstitutional.
The law would prohibit state and local governments from hiring companies — notably Odebrecht, a Brazilian engineering and construction firm that works extensively in South Florida — whose parent companies or affiliates also do business in Cuba or Syria. Because the state law could affect foreign commerce, Scott said in his Tuesday letter, it needed the approval of Congress and the president.
Scott's letter blindsided the members of Congress and the state Legislature — all Republicans — who were never told he would take that position. They said the state law was fine and that Scott's letter potentially undermined it because it armed opponents with a potent legal argument if and when they sue.
"It's unfortunate this very ill-conceived statement muddies the waters," U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart said Wednesday, before Scott's latest statement.
Regardless of what Scott said in his signing statement, Diaz-Balart and others said, the law would go into effect anyway — an opinion Scott confirmed Wednesday. Still, the governor's letter hurt almost as much as a veto.
Diaz-Balart acknowledged that Scott's actions damaged the governor's standing in the eyes of many Cuban-Americans, who comprise about 70 percent of Miami-Dade County's registered Republicans. Spanish-language radio was alive with angered callers directing their ire at Scott.
It wasn't just Cuban-Americans who were upset. Advocates for a free Syria felt hoodwinked as well.
"We didn't know this was going to happen," said Dr. Bashar Lutfi, a Coral Springs neurologist who attended Tuesday's bill signing. "This was not nice of him."
The governor could have let the bill become law without his signature. Or he could have publicly shared his opinions about the bill's constitutionality at the signing event. Earlier in the day, he mentioned his concerns on Spanish-language radio.
But the throng of politicians eager to play up the crackdown law in an election year apparently did not tune into the radio shows. Instead, they saw the governor sign the bill, leave the Freedom Tower, and then surprise them with the fine-print signing statement.