Pittsburgh lobbyists head to Harrisburg to push divestment

Pittsburgh lobbyists head to Harrisburg to push divestment

HARRISBURG — On Monday a group of lobbyists spanning many different organizations left Pittsburgh for Harrisburg on a mission.
That mission was to make sure a bill designed to support terror-free investing was pushed through the House of Representatives and put into action.
Senate Bill 928, if passed, will divest Pennsylvania’s state funds from businesses investing and operating $20 million or more in Iran and Sudan’s military, oil or energy sources. The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition fears that much of this money is being given to terrorist organizations, and could ultimately lead to Iran becoming a nuclear power.
By enacting legislation to move state funds away from companies who have business operations or investments in countries that support genocide and terrorism, Pennsylvania will be sending a message to our nation and the world that acts of terrorism will not be tolerated, according to the PJC.
“It’s about time states stood up against terrorists in this global economy,” Sen. Mike Stack said.
Pennsylvania is not the only state that is moving to pass a bill of this nature. Currently, 19 other states have passed legislation to divest from these regions, and including Pennsylvania, nine other states have taken voluntary steps to divest their pension funds as well.
The bill, which has received support from virtually every representative, was recently reworked to allow an increase in the timeline of divestiture for pension boards. The new timeline for full divestiture was increased from 22 to 36 months.
Pension boards were up in arms over the bill for fear that divestiture from these companies would result in a loss of money. Studies have shown that over a five year testing period, terror-free funds yield 50 percent returns. Comparable funds conducting business in Iran and Sudan yielded only 18 percent returns.
Rep. Josh Shapiro, the original sponsor of the bill, was surprised by the number of people that made the trip to Harrisburg. More than 20 people from the Pittsburgh area representing groups such as the Zionist Organization of America, the Iran Task Force of Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition piled into a conference room to hear Shapiro and other representatives speak. A smaller group from the Philadelphia area was also in attendance.
Shapiro and Rep. Dan Frankel expressed their gratitude that so many people would come to Harrisburg to show their support for the bill. Hank Butler, executive director of the PJC, echoed Shapiro’s thoughts and explained how close the bill is to being passed.
“To put this in sports terms,” Butler said, “We are in the red zone to getting this done.”
Jeff Cohan, director of the Iran Task Force, organized the entire trip. Cohan has been on three other trips to Harrisburg to lobby for this bill, and said that this year’s trip was by far the most productive.
“If we did nothing else, we lit a fire under [Josh] Shapiro to get this done,” Cohan said.
Cohan said that Shapiro, who has been working on this bill for four years now, will certainly be rejuvenated by seeing all the support he has.
“He can put a face to his cause now,” said Cohan.
After meeting with representatives, the group shifted their focus to many appropriators that will have a vote on the bill. As the group made their rounds from office to office to lobby their cause, their mission remained the same.
They wanted the appropriators to vote the bill through cleanly, which meant with no more amendments. Any proposed amendment would sideline the bill again.
“We can’t have the perfect be the enemy of the very good,” said Matt Handel, chairman of the PJC.
Most of the appropriators, or their staff assistants, were more than willing to talk with the group, and were surprised to find out that the group only wanted to express their opinion and were not looking for money.
While no one can be certain, Cohan believes the bill will be pushed through at some point later this week. With budgeting on the horizon for Pennsylvania, the PJC wants to make sure this bill does not get swept under the carpet.

(Brandt Gelman can be reached at brandtg@thejewishchronicle.net.)