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Iowa House backs ban on investing in companies that boycott Israel

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DES MOINES — After four years of trying, Iowa House members finally had a chance to vote on an anti-bullying bill.

“But it’s not an anti-bullying bill that seeks to protect Iowa’s children,” Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said, referring to Gov. Terry Branstad’s so far unsuccessful efforts to win passage of legislation to address bullying and cyberbullying in schools.

Instead, House File 2331 is a bill to restrict the investment of state funds in companies that are engaged in “what has been described to me as pretty much bullying” of Israel, Wolfe said. “They’re being called names … accused of things they say they didn’t do … being demonized, lots of the things that I’m sure all of us sometimes have to deal with on social media.”

Similar to restrictions the Legislature has approved on the investment of public funds in Iran and Sudan, HF 2331 would restrict the state Board of Regents, Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System and police, fire and judicial systems retirement programs from investing in companies that have a policy of boycotting Israel.

Several states and Congress are considering similar legislation, said floor manager Rep. Quentin Stanerson, R-Center Point. It’s intended to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement that is trying to encourage countries, governments and companies to boycott Israel and Israeli companies.

If enacted by the Legislature, the bill will not affect the state general fund, but the impact on the retirement funds cannot be determined, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

But it sounded like an infringement of free speech to Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, who referred to the use of boycotts as part of the civil rights movement.

“This goes beyond whether or not we support Israel,” he said. “This bill is making a determination whether one has a right to boycott. How do we have the audacity to do that?”

Stanerson disagreed that the bill limited or violated First Amendment rights. Instead, it “exercises state’s right to choose companies in which it will invest.”

Representatives voted 70-25 to send the bill to the Senate.

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