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Florida House avoids voting to divest from Russia over Ukraine invasion

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Thursday avoided taking a stance on divesting 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 Board of Administration from investing Florida Retirement System assets in any company, Russian or otherwise, that does business with the Russian government. The move was in response to 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’ll say it, I’m 100% OPPOSED to dictators like Putin, I stand with the people of #Ukraine, and I’m willing to put my $ where my mouth is,” Learned tweeted after.

The board has about $195 billion in assets for the state’s retirement system, which includes the state’s 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 dump its investment in Russian-based assets — and despite steps to do so by some other states — Florida lawmakers have not.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott has called for states to “end relationships with the Russian governments.” Democrats running for governor, including U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, have called for the state to divest the state’s holdings.

Gov. Ron DeSantis controls the State Board of Administration along with fellow Republicans Jimmy Patronis, the state’s elected chief financial officer, and Attorney General Ashley Moody. He hasn’t weighed in on divesting, although he has blamed President Joe Biden for Putin’s aggression. DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw referred questions to the Board of Administration.

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

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

“We are in discussions with our managers and in the process of evaluating the ever-evolving regulatory and economic landscape regarding any 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 because of “evolving sanctions, Russian Central Bank restrictions, continuing regulatory changes, and the removal of Russian securities” from different market indices.

However, as of February 28, their “most significant 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 top grocery chains.
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The value of those companies has crashed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sberbank shares fell 95 percent on the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

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

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

Lawmakers in several states have filed legislation targeting state investments in Russian companies.

DeSantis has previously pushed the State Board of Administration to divest from Ben & Jerry’s and its parent company, Unilever PLC, because he said they were boycotting Israel. The ice cream company decided not to sell its products in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but continue selling in Israel.

Related: Florida ready to pull investments over Ben & Jerry’s decision

The founders of Ben & Jerry’s, 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 a barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation.”

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