SENATE APPROVES BAN ON FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF TEXAS LAND
(AUSTIN) — Foreign nationals from countries that present a threat to national security would be barred from buying certain tracts of land under a bill that received final Senate approval on Wednesday. Bill author and Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst told members that many of her constituents have come to her with concerns. "As I was travelling around the district, I kept hearing concerns about purchases of land by foreign entities, but more specifically, by those that want to do harm to our country," she said. As the ninth largest economy in the world, Kolkhorst says that Texas is a major contributor to the prosperity of the nation and that foreign countries that wish to do harm to the United States could do so by compromising state resources. If individuals or companies representing one of these countries bought up significant tracts of Texas agricultural or oil and gas producing land, Kolkhorst worries they could leverage that to harm the state. "Private property rights are extremely important to maintaining liberty," she said. "Unfortunately, some of the authoritarian regimes that pose a threat to the United States do not respect private property rights and are willing to use these rights to undermine our constitutional republic."
Brenham Senator Lois Kolkhorst's bill would make it illegal for foreign nationals from hostile countries to own certain types of Texas land.
Her bill, SB 147, would only apply to foreign representatives who are not legally present in the country and who come from a country identified as a national security threat. This would be determined by the federal government and would apply to any country that is named on the National Threat Assessment for three years in a row. The original bill specified these countries by name: China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. Texans and other legal residents who have come from or are descended from immigrants from those countries raised concerns that this bill might single them out for discrimination or prevent them from owning their own home or business. In response to those concerns, Kolkhorst says she's softened the bill from the version originally filed in January. "When I filed this bill it was really tough, I wanted no loopholes," she said. In meeting with colleagues and stakeholders, however, she said she realized it needed to be more specifically targeted. A subsequent committee substitute, and then floor amendments, eased the language in the bill.
Instead of listing specific countries, the passed version would apply to any nation identified by the federal government as a particular national security threat three years in a row. This would allow a country to fall off of the list if there is a regime change or other political change that degrades that threat to the US. Next, the bill was narrowed to only include certain types of land where foreign ownership could pose the greatest threat: agricultural, timber, oil and gas, and mineral-bearing lands. The bill would not apply to homesteads or to any lawful permanent resident in the US. "It keeps alive the American dream of home ownership to all, the ability to own a business, the ability to own a homestead and 20 acres, the ability of anyone that's legally here in the United States to own that land and live that dream," said Kolkhorst. Even in cases where an individual or company has violated the bill, she said, they don't lose their property, rather, it would be placed into receivership with the proceeds and profits still going to the owners.
The bill was debated over two days, with opponents raising concerns that despite the improvements, the bill still leaves legally present residents and citizens of the state feeling targeted. Dallas Senator Nathan Johnson thanked Kolkhorst for working to improve the bill, but said it still fell short of winning his support. "I am convinced that it will contribute, despite all the good, patient, thoughtful work that's been done on amending the bill…I think it's still going to send a hostile message, I think it's going to still increase tensions, and suspicions, and resentment, and biases among Texans here today," he said. "I don't think the result is going to be the desirable result that is intended in this bill". The bill passed by a vote of 19-12 and now heads to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 27 at 11 a.m.