Some states mull bills to limit foreign ownership of real estate

A bipartisan effort is underway in 11 states

Senator Lois Kolkhorst
Senator Lois Kolkhorst (Getty, Lois for Texas)

With tensions running high between the U.S. and China, at least 11 states are looking to limit or ban people and companies with direct ties to China from owning real estate within their borders, the New York Times reported.

Texas is leading the way, with Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, sponsoring a bill — spurred by a Chinese company’s purchase of 130,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base in South Texas for a wind farm — this legislative session. Gov. Greg Abbott said he will sign the measure if it passes. 

“One of the top concerns for many Texans is national security and the growing ownership of Texas land by certain adversarial foreign entities,” Kolkhorst told the Times. 

Other governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Glen Youngkin of Virginia, have spoken in favor of limiting other countries, notably China, from owning real estate, including farmland, the Times reported.

In California, a bill sponsored by Democrat Sen. Melissa Hurtado to limit foreign ownership of farmland passed both state houses last year, the outlet reported. Gov. Gavin Newsome vetoed the bill. 

Some of the new measures — passed in states like Minnesota and Iowa — take a broad view of property owned by all foreign governments, while others, including Texas, target specific countries deemed security threats, such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, the outlet reported.

The nation’s food supply is a major concern for lawmakers, as is the foreign purchase of land located near military bases, the Times said. 

Last month, the U.S. Air Force said it was a “significant threat” when a China company purchased a North Dakota corn mill near a military base, the outlet reported.

Concerns over security were raised even further when a Chinese surveillance balloon was discovered hovering over the Midwest last week. Several days later, the balloon was shot down over the Atlantic, off the coast of South Carolina.

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While there is some bipartisan agreement on the issue, Democratic leaders have largely opposed such measures.

In Texas, Democrats say the bill is the result of anti-Chinese animus, not national security. Further, Democrats say the measure is so broad, it would make it impossible for many Chinese immigrants who work or study in Texas to buy a home.

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat, says he supports limiting ownership of foreign corporations with ties to the government.

 “That’s fine,” Wu told the Times.“But the difference is this bill. This bill attacks individuals, private people with no connections with other governments other than being from that country.”

In addition, civil rights and legal experts say the bill would likely be unconstitutional, as it would usurp the federal government’s exclusive right to deal with other nations, not to mention raising equal protection and due process considerations.

Kolkhorst told the Times in a statement she would amend the bill to ensure the prohibitions don’t affect U.S. citizens or “lawful permanent residents.”

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Ted Glanzer

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