Just as the prefiling period for session bills came to an end, Pres. Barack Obama declared victory in getting any deal negotiated between the United States and several other prominent states and Iran described as a means by which to constrain its nuclear ambitions. Great debate has ensued, with almost all Republican, but also including some Democrat, national lawmakers noting the framework’s inability to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weaponry, which stays consistent with Obama’s overall foreign policy thinking.
As a result, some states’ legislatures have decided to pursue passing laws akin to those already existing in several other states that require divestment in any enterprise that deals with Iran and/or barring these from state contracts. Even if the federal government lifted sanctions, it can do nothing constitutionally about states’ decisions on where to invest their money and with whom to do business.
Louisiana is not among those states with a law permitting this. Statute only addresses the issue in that state and statewide pension systems must report semiannually to both chambers’ retirement committees about any system investments in companies that have a presence in Iran, or with North Korea, the Sudan, and Syria. No prohibition of investment exists.
Given the uncertain prudence of Obama’s foreign policy, as well as any flawed moves in this area by future presidents, Louisiana could assist in improving the making of this by changing the reporting into a prohibition. Unfortunately, with this being an odd-year, fiscal-only session of the Legislature, non-fiscal bills cannot be introduced other than by prefiling.
But there is a bill out there that is not so removed from this subject matter that to change it would not violate joint rules of the Legislature that prevent amending or substituting of bills in a way to make them too dissimilar to their original contents according to rules for that kind of session. SB 16 by Sen. Elbert Guillory cleans up large swaths of retirement laws and adds a few substantive changes applying to the four state systems. It includes details about using investment earnings, sufficiently close to the larger subject of investment of assets generally, and therefore could become the vehicle by which to swap the reporting requirement with a ban on investing in the four prohibited states, giving a target date for completing divestment.
Of course, protocol means Guillory would have to agree to these changes, but it seems unlikely he or anybody else would object to appending this material given it is likely to enjoy widespread policy-maker support. Yet given the urgency of budgetary questions that demand satisfactory resolution by the end of the session Jun. 11, this relatively minor issue in the larger scheme of things probably won’t bring clamoring from legislators themselves to get Guillory to make the addition or to help him assure passage of the bill with that addendum.
Thus, it would be up to Jindal to articulate a desire to see this in the bill and to have compiled the background information on it helpful to decision-making by legislators. It’s something he well could have interest in, for as it addresses foreign policy, an area that atypically serves as an issue in state policy-making, it also obviously becomes a way to demonstrate awareness and concern of a major national foreign policy issue that translates well to presidential campaigning.
Louisiana can do its small part to help, at best, encourage good foreign policy or, at worst, mitigate the problems created by bad decision-making coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by making the change in statute. This session, Guillory, Jindal, and all legislators should take on that commitment.