State officials would have to sell off investments in some firms that do business in Iran under the terms of legislation given final approval Monday.
While at least one retirement fund lobbyist said the bill could cause her group to sell off large amounts of stock without regard to financial implications, its sponsor said the aim of HB2151 is to punish Iran for its role in producing explosives.
Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson, said those devices are used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
Paton said his measure might force companies to stop helping Iran produce and market its oil, profits he said underwrite the cost of those devices.
But Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, said she sees a more sinister motive behind this legislation and similar ones being crafted and enacted in other states: It is designed to “demonize” Iran.
“I know there’s plans to go in and invade Iran,” she continued. “I’m adamantly opposed to that.”
And what of the explosives manufactured in Iran?
“That’s what we’re being told,”Johnson responded. “So much of what has come out from this administration has been proven false and has led us down paths that we
never should have gone that I’m having a hard time believing this.”
Paton said Johnson doesn’t have to believe what’s coming out of Washington.
“The Bush administration didn’t tell me anything,” said Paton, who is an intelligence analyst in the Army and served for six months in Iraq. “I saw it with my own eyes.”
What Paton said he saw were “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs as they have become known. These roadside bombs are designed to shoot out molten metal that can penetrate the armor on tanks. Paton believes they were manufactured in Iran.
Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, voted against the measure because he opposed spending $30,000 to hire someone to scrub the retirement system funds when the state has a $1 billion deficit.
And he questioned singling out Iran.
“If we’re looking at rogue nations, they’re a dime a dozen out there,” Cheuvront said.
Johnson agreed that Iran is being singled out. And she said while “it may be true” that Iran is manufacturing explosives used by Shiite militias in Iraq, “it would take a lot more than just coming from this administration for me to believe it.”
And that, Johnson said, goes to her belief that all these claims are simply an excuse for the United States to invade Iran.
Paton, however, said the aim of his legislation is just the reverse.
“This is actually designed to stop them from aggressively pursuing their nuclear ambitions, from continuing to meddle in the foreign affairs with Iraq,” he said.
And Paton said he believes that withdrawing financial support from the Iran government “will do more to preventing a war than anything else.”
The measure, which now goes to the governor, requires the state treasurer and the managers of the various state retirement systems to check their portfolios for holdings in companies involved in Iran’s petroleum industry.
If they find any on that list, a letter would be sent to the company warning it that failure to stop helping Iran would result in the sell-off of its stock.
Paton did agree to a fail-safe provision: No sell-off is necessary if the act would reduce the value of the fund in which the stocks are located by
more than one-half of 1 percent.
That came after Lesli Sorenson, who lobbies for the Arizona State Retirement System, said the measure could force her agency to get rid of between $58 million and $133 million without regard to the financial implications.
That retirement system is the largest of all state plans, covering virtually allstate employees and public school teachers as well as many local government workers.