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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida Senate passes bills on Iran sanctions and security for Jewish schools

Sen. Alexis Calatayud sitting behind a microphone
Colin Hackley
News Service of Florida
Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, sponsored a bill that would provide money for security upgrades at Jewish day schools and preschools.

The Florida Senate on Wednesday passed measures to expand sanctions against Iran and provide money to bolster security at Jewish day schools and preschools.

Wrapping up a special legislative session shadowed by the war between Israel and Hamas, the Florida Senate on Wednesday passed measures to expand sanctions against Iran and provide money to bolster security at Jewish day schools and preschools.

The Senate unanimously approved the bills, which passed the House on Tuesday. They are ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Legislative leaders called the special session after the Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, touching off a war that has killed thousands of people in Israel and Gaza.

While the special session also addressed issues such as providing aid to areas hit by Hurricane Idalia, lawmakers focused heavily on showing support for Israel and Jewish residents of Florida. That included passing bills to target Iran, a key backer of Hamas, and to counter a rise in anti-Semitism.

One of the bills (HB 5C) would expand restrictions on state investments in businesses with ties to Iran. The measure would expand a 2007 law that requires the State Board of Administration to divest from what are known as “scrutinized” companies with links to Iran’s petroleum industry. Certain financial criteria are used in determining whether companies land on the scrutinized list.

The State Board of Administration manages Florida’s massive pension fund and other investments. Under the bill, the investment restrictions would expand to other types of industries, such as the financial, construction, manufacturing, textile and manufacturing sectors.

House and Senate bill sponsors acknowledged they do not know how many companies could be affected by the expansion. But supporters said it is important for Florida to show that it does not want state money supporting Iran.

“They don’t want America to survive,” Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said Wednesday before the Senate passed the bill. “They stand in opposition to everything we stand for.”

But some Democratic lawmakers questioned whether the bill would have much effect. Among other things, the federal government has imposed a wide range of economic sanctions against Iran in the decades since hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

“I just want to make sure we’re doing real things here, as opposed to puffery,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Sunny Isles Beach, said.

DeSantis appears certain to sign the bill, as he began calling for increased sanctions against Iran shortly after the Hamas attack on Israel.

Lawmakers during the special session also approved providing money to help increase security at Jewish day schools and preschools amid increasing incidents of anti-Semitism.

The bill (HB 7C) would provide $15 million for grants that could be used for such things as installing lighting, security cameras, fencing and shatter-resistant windows at Jewish day schools and preschools. Another $10 million would go to the schools for “nonhardening security measures,” such as hiring security workers and training them on threat awareness, emergency procedures and first aid.

“We believe this is going to be the right investment at this time.”
Sen. Alexis Calatayud

The bill also includes $20 million for what is known as the state’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which can be used for security improvements at other types of organizations.

Senate bill sponsor Alexis Calatayud, R-Miami, called anti-Semitism a “global scourge.”

Pizzo questioned whether the bill included enough money to help protect Jewish schools, but Calatayud said lawmakers also can look at funding issues during the 2024 regular legislative session, which will start in January.

“We believe this is going to be the right investment at this time,” Calatayud said.

Some Democratic lawmakers also called for funding for security at historically Black colleges and universities.

They cited incidents such as a racially motivated attack in August when a man killed three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville. Authorities said the shooter a short time earlier had gone to the nearby, historically Black Edward Waters University but left after a campus safety officer responded.

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.