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Texas Senate OKs bill banning foreign governments, including China, from buying agricultural land

 Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is the author of the bill that bans government entities and companies with ties to China, North Korea, Iran and Russia from buying agricultural land in Texas.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is the author of the bill that bans government entities and companies with ties to China, North Korea, Iran and Russia from buying agricultural land in Texas.

The governments of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran would not be allowed to purchase land in Texas under a proposal preliminarily passed by the Texas Senate on Tuesday.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said her legislation is about protecting the state and addressing national security concerns.

Senate Bill 147 strives to put common sense guardrails to protect food and energy and national security, while at the same time, it keeps alive the American dream of homeownership to all, the ability to own a business," Kolkhorst said.

The measure is a watered-down version of the original proposal, which would have banned citizens of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia from buying land and homes in Texas.

The new version would ban governmental entities, along with companies headquartered in one of the countries listed on the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community put out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, from buying “real property” in Texas.

That list only names China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Were the bill to become law, citizens of the four countries who are not lawful residents, dual citizens or people seeking asylum would be able to buy homes in Texas. However, they would only be able to buy up to 20 acres of land.

The bill clarifies that “real property” means “agricultural land, an improvement located on agricultural land, a mine or quarry, a mineral in place, or a standing timber.”

Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, pushed back against critics of the bill who say it’s discriminatory, calling that assertion “incorrect.”

“We should not overlook the point that many of these nations are a threat to our security,” Hinojosa said.

The original iteration of the proposal received pushback from many immigrant-rights groups who said the measure would fuel anti-Asian hate in the state.

In a recent interview with KERA, Lily Trieu, the executive director of Asian Texans for Justice, said the measure has already caused irreversible harm.

“Bills like this that really push this narrative that people of Asian descent, that people who have Chinese descent, that they're dangerous, that somehow they're a threat to national security,” Trieu told KERA. “This hurts the entire Asian-American community, whether you identify as being Chinese or not.”

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, acknowledged the bill that passed Tuesday had been softened. However, he stressed it would still have unintended consequences for the Asian-American community.

“You already impacted them — they are scared to death of you,” Whitmire told Kolkhorst. “They are scared to death of this legislation.”

The measure needs to clear one more procedural vote before it’s sent to the Texas House for consideration.

According to the Associated Press, the legislation comes two years after the Texas Legislature passed a bill banning deals on infrastructure with countries like China.

It also comes after news reports of a Chinese real estate billionaire purchasing land for a wind farm in Val Verde County, the home of Laughlin Air Force Base.

The billionaire is a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army, and has ties to the Chinese Communist Party, Forbes reported in 2021.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is Nashville Public Radio’s political reporter. Prior to moving to Nashville, Sergio covered education for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. He is a Puerto Rico native and his work has also appeared on NPR station WKAR, San Antonio Express-News, Inter News Service, GFR Media and WMIZ 1270 AM.