Hours after signing a bill that would prohibit state and local governments from contracting with companies that have business ties to Cuba and Syria, Gov. Rick Scott came under fire from South Florida lawmakers after he issued a letter saying the bill may conflict with federal law.
Scott signed House Bill 959 during a ceremony at the Freedom Tower Tuesday. The bill would stop Florida tax dollars from being used for projects by companies that do business with the Castro regime in Cuba and the Assad regime in Syria.
"No generation can forget what happened in Cuba," Scott said as he signed the bill with lawmakers at his side.
But just hours later, some of those same lawmakers were bashing Scott's interpretation of the law.
"I think Governor Scott has made a huge mistake in interpreting this law and saying it conflicts with federal statutes," Congressman David Rivera said.
The Miami-based congressman said "if it takes a lawsuit against the governor to implement this law, then not only me but many other people are willing and predisposed to do so.”
Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño said Wednesday "it was unfortunate and maybe it should have been part of the speech. Maybe he should have said it.”
Maroño said Scott did say it on Spanish-language radio before the signing. But as news leaked out, those who had praised the governor were at best dismayed.
“I do hope that Governor Scott comes out and clears this up. Because it’s ridiculous that he would come to Miami and sign a bill, and then his office says something to the contrary," radio host Ninoska Perez said.
Similar local and state legislation has been deemed unconstitutional in the past. Court rulings and legal opinions have consistently stated essentially that a state or local government cannot develop and implement a foreign policy.
In his letter, Scott said he was calling on President Obama to pass a law that would permit states to independently impose sanctions on Cuba and Syria.
Rivera said it's not up to Scott to interpret the laws.
"Maybe we're listening to those who are trying to question or dispute the constitutionality of this law but I think most experts would say that whether or not there is any type of conflict, that has to be decided in the courts," Rivera said. "The governor doesn't have the discretion to not only implement the laws but also try to interpret the laws."