By Mark Hollis | Sun Sentinel
Gov. Jeb Bush indicated Tuesday he will sign a bill that would forbid professors and students from visiting Cuba and other nations accused of supporting terrorism.
Bush’s backing of the legislation, sponsored by state Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican who represents a portion of Broward County, would make Florida one of the most restrictive states for travel by scholars.
The bill bans faculty and students at public universities and community colleges from using ``state or non-state funds’’ to travel to any country deemed a sponsor of terrorists. Five countries would be considered off-limits: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.
The bill does not specify penalties for violators.
The proposal, which easily cleared both chambers of the Florida Legislature earlier this month, has been sharply criticized by academics as an infringement on their rights that would impede important research, especially in Cuba. These critics said it would impede advancement in a wide variety of studies, including agriculture and public health..
Damian Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, warned that the proposal will undermine efforts to recruit scholars who study in Florida and abroad. Wayne S. Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., said the legislation would block potentially valuable research for Florida, and that there is little political justification for such a ban.
Bush downplayed the criticism, saying he thinks public and private money should not “go to countries that are our enemies.” He also said he is skeptical that much legitimate research is conducted during travel to those countries.
Rivera has said the recent case of a Florida International University professor being indicted on espionage charges involving travel to Cuba, all supposedly paid for by private funds, demonstrates the importance of the travel ban.
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