Divestment Plan Concerns Tenn. Treasurer

On January 15, 2008, in News 2008, by Mark Norris

By ERIK SCHELZIG Associated Press Writer, Houston Chronicle
January 15, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Treasurer Dale Sims says he is concerned about how his agency would ban the state from investing in companies that deal with nations accused of supporting genocide or terrorism.

Sims said Tuesday that some lawmakers are considering filing bills that could add Tennessee to the list of about 22 states that have banned investments in companies connected to Sudan.

The Sudanese government and its military allies are accused of pursuing a genocide campaign in the Darfur region.

Most states’ current divestment efforts focus specifically on Sudan. But some also target companies investing in Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba, which are on the U.S. State Department’s list of terror-sponsoring nations.

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, said he plans to file a bill that would target countries that sponsor terrorism. Burchett said his proposal would be similar to states’ decision to limit investments in South Africa during apartheid.

Sims said the federal government doesn’t issue a list of companies that are acting contrary to U.S. interests abroad. It shouldn’t be up to Tennessee officials to make determinations about foreign activities of companies, he said.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris responded that other states have made similar divestment requirements, so Tennessee should be up to the task, too.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to this only because it’s complex,” said Norris, of Collierville.

Sims said the state has largely avoided concerns raised in the past over investments in areas like tobacco and alcohol.

“That’s a bridge that once you cross it, every cause is a good cause,” he said.

Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, argued that the overarching concern should be the state’s rate of return, not “picking out the countries and the companies that are saints and sinners.”

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