Judge blocks Fla. Cuba, Syria business ties law

June 25, 2012 - 7:35 PM

MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked Florida from enforcing a new state law barring companies from bidding on state and local government contracts if they or any affiliates also do business in Cuba or Syria.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore issued the temporary injunction after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by a Florida-based subsidiary of a Brazilian conglomerate, which contended that the law is unconstitutional. The lawsuit by Odebrecht Construction Inc. claims the law runs afoul of the federal government's sole powers to direct U.S. foreign policy.

Moore noted that at least three similar efforts have been made targeting Cuba in the past. He said it was clear that Odebrecht was likely to prevail, meaning the law would be permanently barred.

"If it's foreign affairs, it's foreign affairs," Moore said in ruling from the bench. "It isn't as if there isn't some precedent there."

The law, which takes effect July 1, applies to state and local projects worth $1 million or more. Bidders would have to certify that neither they nor any affiliate has economic links to Cuba or Syria — though there's little doubt the main issue for Cuban-Americans in South Florida would be any business with the communist island.

Odebrecht, based in Coral Gables, is part of Brazil's Odebrecht S.A., which has a separate subsidiary working to expand Cuba's port of Mariel. Odebrecht has engineering, construction and related activities around the world, including work on such major Florida projects as Miami's American Airlines Arena, the Nassau Sound Bridge in Jacksonville and the new Florida International University football stadium.

Odebrecht attorney James E. Moye contended that the law, which applies to projects worth $1 million or more, would prevent it from bidding on billions of dollars in government contracts. The company says it intends to bid on $3.3 billion in Florida transportation projects this year alone.

"They are ready to bid. They want to bid. They are going to suffer irreparable harm," Moye said.

Violators could suffer stiff fines, up to the amount bid on a project.

Attorneys for the state Transportation Department, the agency named in the lawsuit, argued the law is a valid one made by Florida officials on how government money should be spent. They contended it was not an improper reach into federal foreign policy.

"It is the ability of the state of Florida to determine who it's going to contract with and not contract with," said Paul Martin, an attorney for the state agency.

The measure was pushed through the Republican-dominated Legislature this year by two Miami-Dade County lawmakers and signed into law by Florida's Republican Gov. Rick Scott. He held a signing ceremony in May before key Cuban-American political and business leaders at Miami's Freedom Tower.

Even then, its constitutionality was in doubt.

Scott issued a statement after signing the measure that Congress would have to pass — and the president sign — a law allowing states to impose their own sanctions on foreign governments. That triggered a political uproar in the Cuban-American exile community, forcing Scott to repeat that he supported the law and would defend it against court challenges.

The U.S. government has a broad array of economic sanction in place against Cuba's communist government. Cuba is among the State Department's listed state sponsors of terrorism, along with Syria, Iran and Sudan.

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