Gov. Rick Scott to sign bill banning governments from hiring companies tied to Cuba

May 1, 2012 

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday will sign a contentious bill into law that would ban state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba and Syria.

The bill signing is set for 11 a.m. at the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, where Cuban exiles were processed when they first entered the United States escaping Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

Scott, in a phone call last week to Spanish-language radio station WAQI-AM (710), known as Radio Mambí, called the Castro and Assad governments “undeniably repressive.” He said the legislation would protect “Florida taxpayers from unintentionally supporting dictatorships that commit such despicable acts.”

In throwing his support behind Florida House Bill 959, Scott sided with the nearly-unanimous Legislature. The legislation was authored by Miami-Dade Republicans who argued taxpayer dollars should not fund companies connected to oppressive regimes in Cuba and Syria.

Influential business interests, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the governments of Florida’s top two trading partners, Brazil and Canada, have warned the law would discourage investment from foreign firms. It is unclear which, or how many, companies would be affected by the legislation.

Last Thursday, the board of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution urging the governor to veto the legislation, saying it would deter efforts to attract new companies and jobs.

Fourteen laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past year have ended up in court, and several others appear headed that way, including the Cuba measure.

Signing the legislation is an olive branch of sorts from Scott to Miami-Dade’s older Cuban Americans, a coveted voting bloc. Earlier this month, as part of his vetoes to the state budget, the governor cut $500,000 that had been set aside for a Bay of Pigs Museum — on the 51st anniversary of the invasion. The veto did not go unnoticed by Cuban-American politicians and radio hosts.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami, appears aimed at Odebrecht, the Brazilian giant whose Coral Gables-based, U.S. subsidiary has worked on some of South Florida’s biggest projects, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, the American Airlines Arena and the North Terminal at Miami International Airport. A separate subsidiary in Cuba is performing major improvements to the Port of Mariel.

Once the governor signs the bill into law, it will go into effect on July 1 and affect future state and local government contracts worth at least $1 million. Odebrecht USA has been negotiating with Miami-Dade aviation officials to build the proposed Airport City, a massive project including two hotels, office and retail space on airport grounds.

The plan, under Federal Aviation Administration review, would have to win approval from county commissioners. Several have already said they are reluctant to award more projects to Odebrecht. The new law could give them legal cover to back up their position.

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