Members of the joint committee have endorsed a plan sponsored by Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, to ensure that none of the Utah State Retirement System's nearly $20 billion in assets are invested in foreign companies that do business in Iran.
U.S. companies are already prohibited from doing business in the Persian nation, but public money can be funneled to businesses there through international investments held by pension programs. The proposed bill is similar to one California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed last month.
The committee's approval - which generally gives momentum to a bill going into the lawmaking session - came Tuesday evening over the spoken hesitation of Utah State Retirement Systems counsel Dan Anderson.
Though he conceded that his objections would not be popular, Anderson said that divestiture has not been established to be effective and can be counterproductive to State Department efforts to "speak with one voice" on matters of foreign policy. Moreover, he said, Fisher's bill "is not going to have any effect on what happens in Iran . . . it's not going to slow the flow of weapons from Iran to Iraq."
But although he first expressed some reluctance about possible unintended consequences of Fisher's bill, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, stood to its defense.
"We get bound up here all the time on 'we don't understand this,' " Buttars said in response to a call by Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, for a more complete analysis of the bill before the committee's endorsement. "Well, there's a lot of things we vote on that we don't understand, but I would rather stand on the principle of 'let's go for it.' "
The debate shortly descended into a clash over national loyalty after Buttars called for votes to be registered in a roll call.
"Is that to determine our patriotism, senator?" Walker asked.
"Well, if you're going to go there, I guess it is, senator," Buttars replied.
Fisher's bill ultimately passed over the objections of Walker and Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, but committee members noted that many questions would need to be answered before the full Legislature could be expected to vote.