Florida House avoids voting to divest from Russia over Ukraine invasion

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Thursday avoided taking a position on the disposal of the state’s $300 million in investments in Russian companies.

During a floor session, State Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Brandon, proposed amending a bill to prohibit the state’s Board of Directors from investing Florida Retirement assets System in any company, Russian or otherwise, that does business with the Russian government. The move followed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.

Republican lawmakers, who control the House, ruled the amendment out of order on a technicality.

“I will say it, I am 100% OPPOSED to dictators like Putin, I am with the people of #Ukraineand I’m ready to put my dollars where my mouth is,” Learned later tweeted.

The board has approximately $195 billion in assets for the state retirement system, which includes the state pension fund.

On Wednesday, the Florida House of Representatives passed a resolution that “formally condemns the invasion of Ukraine by President Putin and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”

But despite bipartisan calls for the state to abandon its investments in Russian-based assets — and despite steps taken to do so by some other states — Florida lawmakers have failed to do so.

Florida Senator Rick Scott has called on states to “terminate relations with Russian governments.” Democratic gubernatorial candidates, including the U.S. Representative. Charlie Crist and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called on the state to divest state assets.

Governor Ron DeSantis controls the state’s Board of Directors along with fellow Republicans Jimmy Patronis, the state’s elected chief financial officer and Attorney General Ashley Moody. He did not weigh in on the divestment, though he blamed President Joe Biden for Putin’s assault. DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw referred the questions to the board.

Related: Ron DeSantis weighs in on Ukraine, blames Biden’s ‘weakness’ as an invasion

Board spokesman Dennis MacKee said they “comply with applicable laws and any sanctions required by the U.S. government.”

“We are in discussion with our managers and assessing the ever-changing regulatory and economic landscape regarding all holdings in Russia and will adjust our holdings accordingly,” MacKee said.

The board does not have a reliable list of Russian companies it invests in due to “evolving sanctions, Russian Central Bank restrictions, ongoing regulatory changes and the removal of Russian securities” from different stock indices.

However, as of February 28, their “largest holdings” included:

  • Rosneft, the Russian energy giant;
  • Sberbank of Russia, the country’s largest lender;
  • Norilsk Nickel, a Russian mining and smelting company;
  • Lukoil, an oil producer that also has gas stations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania;
  • and Magnit, one of its main grocery chains.

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The value of these companies plummeted after Russia invaded Ukraine. Sberbank shares fell 95% on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

Florida’s $300 million worth of Russian investments was as of January 31, before the invasion, and it’s probably worth a fraction of that now.

“It would certainly be fair to say that the exposure has decreased significantly,” MacKee said.

Lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation targeting state investment in Russian companies.

DeSantis previously pushed the state board to divest Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever PLC, because he said they boycotted Israel. The ice cream company has decided not to sell its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but to continue selling in Israel.

Related: Florida ready to withdraw investments following Ben & Jerry’s decision

Ben & Jerry’s founders, who are Jewish and supporters of Israel, said their decision not to sell was “a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is an obstacle to peace and violates the rights fundamental human rights of the Palestinian people”. who live under occupation.

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