CARSON CITY — Government agencies in Nevada may no longer do business with companies that engage in efforts to boycott Israel.
Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison, would require companies to provide written certification that they are not involved in a boycott of Israel or Israeli companies in order to qualify for a contract with a government agency. The bill also calls for scrutiny of the state’s investments for ties to companies that boycott Israel.
As a state legislator, Hutchison went to Israel and his group was introduced in a restaurant overlooking the Sea of Galilee. He said his group got a standing ovation.
“It underscored for me just the importance of that relationship,” Hutchison told the Senate Government Affairs Committee on Monday, which didn’t take immediate action.
“I saw firsthand how much the Israeli people love Americans and how important they are as an ally.”
The legislation is in response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. The BDS campaign is a worldwide effort to use a boycott to put economic and political pressure on Israel to voice objections about the nation’s role in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hutchison’s bill had wide support from Nevada’s Jewish community.
Marla Letizia, board chair of Jewish Nevada, said Jewish groups across the country have taken an active role in speaking out about the issue.
“The BDS movement seeks to engage in economic warfare against the state of Israel,” she said.
She noted the bill does not prohibit people from advocating or lobbying.
“They live in America,” she said. “They can do what they wish, though it hurts our heart.”
Shelley Berkley, a former Nevada Democratic congresswoman, testified in support of the bill.
The bill also has letters of support from U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.; U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.; U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.; and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev
Holly Welborn, a lobbyist with the ACLU of Nevada, said the organization has concerns about the bill infringing on free speech rights. She said compelling a contractor to sign a document aligning with the state’s political beliefs is in violation with the First Amendment.
“If governmental speech rights trumped individual speech rights, the First Amendment would have no meaning,” the ACLU said in a letter to lawmakers.
The bill does not apply to company’s business decisions — only boycotts against Israel that discriminate on the basis of nationality or religion.
About 16 states have passed or introduced similar legislation targeting companies that boycott Israel.
Under the bill, the state treasurer is required to create a list of scrutinized funds with a direct or indirect holding and prepare an annual report. The treasurer is required to sell redeem or divest of all direct holdings within three months of producing the list.
In that same vein, the bill would require the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Board to identify and prepare an annual report about investments of money it makes into companies that boycott Israel.