Palm Beach Post
By Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 04, 2006
TALLAHASSEE — Florida's universities and community colleges will be prohibited from sending researchers and students to "terrorist countries," including Cuba, under a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by state lawmakers.
Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who sponsored the legislation, called the communist country a harbor of "killers, terrorists, and drug traffickers," and criticized Florida's professors for studying there.
"To others, particularly some in the leftist higher education establishment, this bill is about disallowing what they want to do," Rivera said. "I sincerely believe that these leftists of higher education don't understand the lack of a moral equivalent between America and her enemies."
The House's unanimous approval of SB 2434, which passed unanimously last month in the Senate, means it will become law upon the signature of Gov. Jeb Bush.
Other countries that are on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist countries include North Korea, Iran, Libya, Syria and Sudan.
But Rivera said Cuba is the country with the most travel activity organized by Florida's universities and colleges.
Although Rivera said the bill prohibits only "taxpayer-funded" trips, the actual language in the legislation says "none of the state or nonstate funds made available to state universities" may be used to organize, direct, coordinate or administer any activities related to or involving travel to a terrorist state. Community colleges are similarly affected by the bill.
Private colleges also may not use tax dollars for travel to terrorist countries, under the proposal.
Representatives from the University of Florida, which sent 24 students and professors to Cuba last year on an archival study of Spain's role in the New World, believe the bill affects both public dollars and private donations.
"To my knowledge, no tax money was used on that trip but with this bill that won't matter," UF spokesman Stephen Orlando said. "Obviously the people who do research in Cuba will have to find another way to do it."
The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's 11 universities, opposed the bill, saying it restricts academic and individual freedom, prohibits students from learning about the culture and politics of the countries affected, and limits the exposure of people in terrorist countries to the ideals and values of the American people.
Florida International University has a Cuban Research Institute that sponsors exchange trips for students and professors between Cuba and the United States that could be affected by the bill, although a 1988 FIU rule prohibits state money from being used for travel to Cuba. No one from the school or the institute returned phone calls Wednesday.
Florida Atlantic University professor Robert Watson said it's shortsighted to restrict university travel and to attack professors who are likely traveling for humanitarian or research reasons.
"We are on the doorstep of Cuba and if anyone should be trying to figure it out, it should be Florida schools," Watson said. "The hallmark of academia is scholarly freedom and free thought."
Mr. David Rivera is hereby inducted into the "Miami Zealots Hall of Shame."
I wonder if he is going to introduce a Bill which recommends that the U.S. grant citizenship to terorist Luis Posada Carriles.