Bills shift Kan. investment policy on Sudan, Iran

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas would lift restrictions on investments by its largest public pension fund in companies that do business in Sudan but impose new limits on investments in companies that do business with Iran under proposals reviewed by a legislative committee Monday.

The House Pensions and Benefits Committee has two separate bills dealing with investments by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, the pension system for teachers, state workers and many local government employees. KPERS has about $4.5 billion in international investments. The panel took no action on either measure.

One bill repeals a 2007 state law preventing KPERS from investing in companies that have oil, mining or energy interests in Sudan, have supplied military equipment in Sudan or have a “demonstrated complicity” in widespread killing in the Darfur region. Kansas enacted the law in response to violence in Darfur.

Chairman Steve Johnson, an Assaria Republican, said the bill gives the House committee a chance to consider whether the policy is still appropriate, given the creation of South Sudan in an independence vote in 2011. However, the new African nation has been wracked by violence between pro- and anti-government forces since December.

KPERS officials said investment restrictions come both with small administrative costs and the potential for losses as the pension system divests. Alan Conroy, the system’s executive director, said KPERS already follows rules imposed by U.S. economic sanctions involving various nations, including Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

“We think the federal government is in the best position to set foreign policy,” Conroy said after the committee’s meeting.

The bill on investments in Iran is being pushed by Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican. It would require KPERS to divest from companies that have invested more than $20 million a year in Iran’s oil industry since 1996, if those firms decline to lessen their presence in the Islamic republic.

Schwab said Kansas should do what it can to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program. The U.S. and its allies believe the program is designed to produce a nuclear weapon, something Iranian leaders deny.

Also, Schwab said the bill is in line with policies advocated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and is meant as a strong pro-Israel statement.

The Kansas House last week unanimously approved a non-binding resolution declaring Israel “the greatest friend and ally of the United States in the Middle East.” The resolution also said peace will not come to the region without “a whole and united Israel.”

“We use what we can use to, one, make sure funds are not being used in Iran to threaten Israel and, also, to threaten our troops across seas, because Iran will fund attacks on U.S. interests,” Schwab said.

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Online:

Information on bill dealing with Sudan: http://bit.ly/1j5hgwy

Information on bill dealing with Iran: http://bit.ly/1bYSyZO

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