On Tuesday, State Rep. Josh Shapiro, along with members of the Iran Task Force from Pittsburgh, will reintroduce a bill to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives prohibiting Pennsylvania pension funds from investing in foreign companies that do business in Iran.
“There is a law on the book that prohibits (American) companies from investing in Iran or Darfur,” Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, said. “That is current federal law. There is no federal law prohibiting foreign companies from doing business there — obviously.”
Shapiro’s bill targets two Pennsylvania pension funds, the SERS, which is for state retirees, and PSERS, which is for public school retirees.
If the bill is passed, those two pensions will have to divest any holdings they have in foreign companies that do business with Iran.
Shapiro has introduced this bill to the House previously, where it passed with ease. However, it was not considered in the Senate.
“The day they were expected to
consider it was the day the market dropped 787 points,” Shapiro said. “It was the first of the significant drops in the market last year that kind of led to them holding off on the bill.
“We want to build on our momentum of success in the House last session,” he continued, “And again pass our legislation in the House this year, as well as in the Senate.”
State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill), is a co-sponsor of the bill and has been working with Shapiro to get it passed since the first try in the House.
“Hopefully we will have the opportunity to move forward with it this session,” Frankel said. “It’s very hard for the state to take a position on any foreign policy. The least we can expect from our state government is that it does anything possible to mitigate supporting a terrorist country.”
Frankel will also be in Harrisburg Tuesday, and feels confident about the bills chances.
“I think that it will give us a push and bring some attention to the bill,” he said. “I feel pretty good about getting it done this time.”
Jeffrey Cohan, director of community and public affairs for the United Jewish Federation, said many states have already passed similar
legislation, including Illinois, Florida and California.
He said it’s important to cut off companies that do business in Iran because that money is used to fund programs like its nuclear weapons manufacturing.
“Around $2.5 billion was invested in foreign energy companies that do business in Iran,” he said. “Iran is using the money from its energy sector to fund its nuclear weapons capabilities. The companies that are investing in Iran energy need to pull out. We have already seen divestment from some.”
Tuesday’s trip to Harrisburg will give Shapiro a chance to reintroduce the bill, but also allow other advocates to talk it up with other state legislators.
“We are going to reintroduce the bill and talk about the important of the legislation,” Shapiro said. “The advocates from the Pittsburgh coalition are going to meet with legislators and ask them to co-sponsor the legislation.”
Shapiro will also talk about success he has had with the Tobacco Settlement Investment Board, which agreed to do what he hopes the pension funds will do next.
“That board (the TSIB) must divest its holdings from companies doing business in Iran and Sudan,” he said. “It’s a model for what we need to do with SERS and PSERS.”
(Mike Zoller can be reached at email@example.com.)