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March 2, 2023
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(AUSTIN) — Countries identified by federal authorities as hostile to American interests would face restrictions on buying land in Texas under a bill considered by the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday. Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst said that during her most recent campaign, she heard over and over from constituents regarding concerns about foreign entities buying up agriculture producing land and manufacturing industries in her mostly rural district. As she looked into the issue, she said, she became concerned by the trend of representatives of foreign entities hostile to US interests buying up American land. "Unfortunately, some of the regimes across our world pose a threat to the United States that do not respect private property rights, and are willing to use these rights to undermine our constitutional republic," she said. Her bill would make it illegal for representatives of four countries - China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia - to hold certain property in the state.

TSN photo

Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst offers a bill before the Senate State Affairs Committee to restrict purchase of Texas land by certain foreign nationals.

Kolkhorst said the reason those four countries are specifically identified is that are consistently named in the annual threat assessment prepared by the Director of National Intelligence as countries that pose the most hostile disposition to the nation. These are also the same four countries prohibited from owning critical infrastructure in Texas under a bill passed unanimously by both houses last session. Kolkhorst said her bill will build on that widely-supported measure by protecting food and energy and enhancing those national security protections. She added that twenty-two other states already have similar laws on the books. Kolkhorst further noted that of the four nations only one, Russia, permits Americans to own land within their borders, and in that case only in specific and approved regions.

The bill received some backlash when filed, with concerns raised that individuals from those countries who are here legally as citizens, permanent residents, or asylum seekers would find themselves under this prohibition. In response, Kolkhorst said she worked with stakeholders to come up with a substitute measure that addressed these concerns. Citizens and lawful permanent residents are excluded from these prohibitions. The bill considered on Thursday would also specifically exempt any residential property claimed as a homestead. "The committee substitute to Senate Bill 147 provides common sense guardrails to protect food, energy, and national security, while at the same time it keeps alive the American dream of homeownership for all," said Kolkhorst. "Ceding control to authoritarian nations in crops, energy deposits, and rare earth materials…is something that I think is a national security measure." The bill would not prohibit foreign entities from operating in the state, and would allow them to lease property or partner with an American company in order to transact business.

Lubbock Senator Charles Perry offered a different solution, based on his belief that private property rights are utterly sacrosanct. "Private property is central to our Republic," he said. "To give up… to government the transfer of our wealth in the name of protection is short-sighted at best," Perry is concerned that while today the target is hostile foreign entities, giving government the right to prohibit the purchase and sale of land for this reason could expand to other reasons in the future. He said his bill, SB 711, tries to balance security concerns with Texans' inalienable property rights. "I trust the American patriot to make the right decision if they know the buyer may be from one of our enemies," said Perry. That measure would require buyers to disclose that they are representatives of hostile foreign countries and allow a seller to break a promise of sale contract on that basis. "That is the definition of patriotism," he said. Ultimately, Perry says the problem lies with the American consumer's overreliance on cheap foreign goods that are propping up these regimes. "If you want to protect America and cripple the communist Chinese parties and the like, it will require a sacrifice by all. We need to quit buying their stuff."

Both bills remain pending before the committee. The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 7th at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other Senate webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's Audio/Video Archive.