Under the Dome

NC Senate looks to cut off companies with Iran ties

An N.C. Senate committee voted unanimously Tuesday for legislation that bans state government from contracting with companies tied to Iran’s energy sector.

Senate Bill 455 would exercise an option given to states in federal law to cut business connections to Iran over its nuclear program. It’s sponsored by Republican Sen. Rick Gunn of Burlington and backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who spoke at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“We all know Iran has supported terrorist groups,” Forest said. “Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would be catastrophic to both Israel and the United States.”

The bill would direct the Secretary of State to develop a list of companies with Iran ties. Representatives from State Treasurer Janet Cowell’s office said Iran divestment is already a formal policy, and it applies to the state’s retirement fund portfolio. The same rule applies companies with ties to Sudan.

“We feel that it’s an appropriate policy, and it’s one that we think the treasurer has been in the forefront of,” said Edgar Starnes, a former House member who serves as Cowell’s legislative liaison.

The law would not apply if the federal government lifts sanctions on Iran, which is a possibility in current negotiations aimed at an agreement to curb Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. While Tuesday’s vote was unanimous, Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham questioned the need for the law given Cowell’s existing policy.

“It sounds like we’re trying to solve a problem that doesn’t truly exist,” he said. “I wonder the extent of which this is more about political gamesmanship in terms of what is going on in Washington today.”