1. Opinion

Scott should veto bill meant to placate Castro foes

Published Mar. 19, 2012

Armchair patriots trolling for votes from hard-liners in Miami's Cuban-American community continue to put Florida on the wrong side of history. 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.

HB 959 prohibits companies with business operations in Cuba or Syria from obtaining any state or local contract worth at least $1 million. While the measure does not invalidate any existing deals, state and local officials could pull the plug on any contract with these entities after July 1, should the governor sign the bill into law. The bill defines "business operations" so broadly the state would need an army of auditors to trace all the moving parts in this global economy back to these two countries.

Throwing Syria into the mix gets an Oscar for costume design, given that the bill is clearly meant to further isolate Cuba's Castro regime and intimidate the growing number of political and business leaders who have pushed successfully in recent years to liberalize trade and travel with Cuba, especially through the gateway of Florida. The only connection between Cuba and Syria is that both are listed by the U.S. government as state sponsors of terrorism. But the real impact of the legislation could be to hurt Odebrecht USA, one of Miami-Dade's largest contractors, whose parent company has a corporate arm with active business in Cuba. The legislation might also interfere down the road with new charter flights between Florida and Cuba if those operations continue their meteoric rise.

Trade representatives and legal scholars say the measure is unconstitutional; state and local officials cannot go off and make foreign policy. Gov. Rick Scott should spare taxpayers a costly and certain legal battle by vetoing the bill. Lawmakers all but acknowledged the ban was on shaky legal ground by including 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.