Legislation barring hostile foreign actors from purchasing agricultural land or mineral interests in the state has died in the Texas House.
Senate Bill 147 by State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R–Brenham) would have banned the ownership of Texas agricultural land or mineral interests by citizens, companies, or governmental entities of countries designated by the federal government as threats to U.S. national security. The bill did not apply to those with leases on such property and made exceptions for lawful permanent residents and dual citizens of the United States and a foreign country.
The bill passed the Texas Senate on April 26 and was referred to the House State Affairs Committee on May 4. It was never scheduled for a hearing, though, and the deadline for passing Senate bills out of House committees was Saturday, May 20.
The legislation built on a state law that was enacted in 2021 known as the Lone Star Infrastructure Protection Act, which prohibits ownership of critical infrastructure in the state by companies based in China, North Korea, Iran, or Russia. Passing the House and Senate unanimously, that law (Senate Bill 2116) was proposed in response to the purchase of 130,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base by a billionaire associated with the Chinese Communist Party, who planned to build a wind farm.
Since then, concerns about foreign ownership of Texas and U.S. land have only grown, as such ownership represents potential threats to the national food supply, energy production, and national security. According to the USDA, individuals and companies in China own more land in Texas—4.7 million acres—than in any other state.
Texas Scorecard published an investigation on this issue last year, and a November poll found that 82 percent of Texas Republican voters support a ban on Chinese ownership of Texas land.
SB 147 didn’t specifically name any countries but would have applied to those listed in each of the last three Annual Threat Assessments of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Currently, that list consists of four countries: China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia.
Several advocacy groups and policy organizations supported the legislation, including the Oil and Gas Workers Association, the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, the Center for Security Policy, ChinaAid, and Texans for Strong Borders.
On Monday, Texans for Strong Borders sent fortune cookies to every House office with a mock message from the Chinese Communist Party “thanking” House Speaker Dade Phelan (R–Beaumont) for killing SB 147.
Texans for Strong Borders has been outspoken about stopping our enemies (China, Iran, etc.) from buying up Texas land.
SB 147 passed the Texas Senate with bipartisan support, but has been killed by Dade Phelan and the Texas House.
Today we ensured House offices know the Chinese… pic.twitter.com/qBRuMu2KIH
— Texans for Strong Borders (@StrongBordersTX) May 22, 2023
After SB 147 passed the Senate with the support of all but one Republican, Phelan referred the proposal to the House State Affairs Committee, which is chaired by State Rep. Todd Hunter (R–Corpus Christi), one of his top allies and a former Democrat.
During the Senate debate, Kolkhorst pointed out that more than 20 other states, including California, have considered similar legislation. Critics of the bill, however, said it demonized Asians and infringed on property rights.
State Sen. John Whitmire (D–Houston), who is running for mayor of Houston, was exceptionally critical of the proposal, saying it would promote racism and was “addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.” He also said confronting threats to national security is a responsibility of the federal government.
State Rep. Gene Wu (D–Houston) also spoke out against the bill, arguing that “we should target no one” in a press conference with Democrat Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and U.S. Reps. Al Green (D–Houston) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D–Houston).
Texas Scorecard has reported on Wu’s connections to individuals associated with the CCP, and according to a cyber security expert, the Chinese government is behind much of the opposition to the bill.
At the beginning of the current legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott said he would sign the bill if it got to his desk, but he stopped short of naming it an emergency item.
Earlier this month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill blocking Chinese citizens from purchasing farmland in the state.