Tensions run high over proposed senate bill that could limit foreigners' right to buy property

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Saturday, January 21, 2023
New bill possibly limiting foreigners right to causing tensions
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A proposed bill to prohibit land sales to entities and individuals with ties to North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran has elicited passionate responses for and against it.

FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- A proposed bill to prohibit land sales to entities and individuals with ties to North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran has elicited passionate responses in Houston for and against it.

Senate Bill 147 prohibits land sales or acquisitions by companies or entities with ties to North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran.

That includes governmental entities, companies with headquarters in those countries, or companies controlled by the specified nations. It goes on to say individuals who are citizens of the four nations will be prohibited from purchasing real property.

The bill was authored by Republican State Senator Lois Kolkhorst, whose district includes part of Fort Bend County.

"I will sign it. This follows a law I signed banning those countries from threatening our infrastructure," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted.

On Friday, before a rally outside the Fort Bend County Justice Center, a group from the Asian American community against the bill and two Fort Bend County residents in favor of it had a heated exchange.

"Everyone wants to back down, because they are in fear of being called racist," Jules Knouldon, who is in favor of the bill, said. "That's not the case here. The woman is trying to protect people's property and businesses without foreign countries coming in and buying up everything."

Knouldon said that America is not benefitting from farmland being purchased by foreign countries.

Asian American community members who attended the rally held signs that called the bill "discriminatory." They said they fear that they will be unable to purchase homes if the bill passes.

"Anyone who is in this country from North Korea is here as a lawful refugee fleeing an oppressive government," State Representative Gene Wu said at the rally. "They are now being punished again for the actions of that oppressive government simply because they come from the same place."

Fort Bend County Judge KP George said the bill should concern everyone because additional countries could be added to the list at any point. He also stated that he believed it could have a negative economic impact on the state.

"People are not going to invest in a place where there is a doubt," George said. "Tomorrow, what is happening? They're not going to invest. I believe as Fort Bend County's top elected official. I do not believe this is in our best interest."

Kenneth Li is a real estate investor and developer. He said some of his clients have reached out to him after learning about the bill and are considering leaving the state. They fear they will not be able to buy real estate in Texas.

"They are scared the state of Texas is not friendly to foreign people," Li said.

Sen. Kolkhorst's office issued the following statement:

"As I have traveled across my senate district, one of the top concerns for many Texans is the growing ownership of Texas land by certain adversarial foreign entities, such as the 130,000 acres near Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio that was recently purchased by a former officer of the Chinese army. Many Texans find this trend highly disturbing and a major red flag.

This bill addresses a national security issue and will preserve our cherished private property rights and constitutional freedoms. It does not prohibit foreign business investment in Texas, because companies may still do business by leasing land and buildings. Passing this law delivers the safeguards to ensure that Texas remains Texas. SB 147 builds on SB 2116 which passed the Texas Legislature unanimously in 2021. That bill protected critical infrastructure against contracts or doing business with Russia, North Korea, China and Iran because of national security issues. Mirroring that legislation, SB 147 also names the same four countries and prohibits them from future purchases of Texas lands. The bill will make crystal clear that the prohibitions do not apply to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents. This has always been about common-sense safeguards against Russian, North Korean, Chinese and Iranian authoritarian regimes, not those fleeing the tyranny of those governments who seek freedom in Texas."

SB147 has yet to move to committee.

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