By Bobby Harrison
JACKSON – Legislation designed to prevent the state from contracting with companies that do business with Iran and perhaps affecting the state’s relationship with Toyota Motor Corp., died a quiet death Monday in the Senate.
The bill, which passed overwhelmingly last week, died on the Senate calendar when the Senate leadership opted to not try to dispose of a motion to reconsider its passage entered by Sen. David Blount, D-Jackson. Blount had maintained that the issue should be left to national politicians and not debated in the Mississippi Legislature. And Blount’s position was buoyed in recent days by the revelations that Toyota, which has a manufacturing plant in Blue Springs, might be concerned about the bill.
But Sen. Nancy Collins, R-Tupelo, the author of the legislation, stressed Monday that while her bill is dead the issue is not dead for the 2015 session.
Another, nearly identical bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. Late Monday, Collins said she and others interested in the Iran Divestment Act plan to amend the bill to ensure that it will not impact Toyota and then try to pass it.
Collins said the intent of the legislation is “to show our Israeli partners that we believe in their just cause” to oppose Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Collins said the plan is to amend the bill to remove the section that prohibits the state from entering into a contract with entities that have investments of $20 million or more with Iran.
Other states that have passed similar legislation have placed Toyota Tsusho, part of the Toyota Group of companies and a supplier to the Blue Springs plant, on a list of companies doing business with Iran.
Green Metals Inc. is a subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho and is located in Blue Springs, where it handles recycling for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi and its Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.
The plan, Collins said, is to amend the House bill so that its sole purpose would be to prohibit the state treasurer and the Public Employees Retirement System from investing state funds with any person “engaging in investment activities in Iran.” It would no longer prevent the state from contracting with any company.
Collins called it “misinformation” that the legislation would have an impact on Toyota or other companies employing Mississippians.
But Ed Lewis, a spokesman in Toyota’s Washington D.C., office, to whom questions were referred on the issue, said, “While I haven’t seen the specifics of the bill, we understand the language is fairly broad. If that’s the case, it could obviously have unintended consequences which might affect us in some way.”
He said it was his understanding that “Toyota Tsusho purchases Iranian crude oil under a special exclusion from the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act, which is permitted by both Japanese and the US governments.”
Some questioned whether the legislation – should it become law – would prevent Toyota from receiving state incentives if it decided to expand its $880 million Blue Springs facility where about 2,000 people are currently employed.
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