Louisiana Lawmakers Push Bills to Restrict Foreign Adversary Land Ownership
Louisiana lawmakers are making progress in passing a series of bills aimed at prohibiting certain "foreign adversaries," including Chinese companies and individuals, from purchasing land in the state. This legislative effort aligns with a national trend led by Republican-led states seeking to prevent foreign actors from acquiring strategically important land.
However, these bills have faced significant opposition and sparked protests from Chinese-American citizens, including college professors who argue that the legislation is discriminatory and could jeopardize their ability to purchase homes due to legal restrictions or potential discrimination from sellers.
While at least three Republican legislators are championing bills targeting foreign land ownership, House Bill 537, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, has garnered the most attention.
Hodges' bill, which received approval from the House in a 78 to 22 vote, seeks to prohibit individuals associated with the governments of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela from buying or leasing property in Louisiana.
Under pressure, Hodges introduced multiple amendments aimed at excluding individuals who are legal residents and wish to buy or lease property in an effort to address concerns raised by universities about the potential impact on foreign-born professors.
Hodges explained, "What we're trying to do is stop people who are affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party... from buying property or land."
However, these changes have done little to assuage the concerns of Chinese Americans. Through various protests and committee meetings, they have expressed fears that the bills will make it more difficult for them to purchase homes and properties, as sellers may be apprehensive about selling to Asian Americans.
During a committee hearing on Hodges' bill, Abigail Hu, a recent high school graduate from New Orleans, stated, "This bill tells us we're not good Americans. I believe the language in this bill continues to have an anti-immigrant and xenophobic fear-mongering undertone."
Although Chinese companies own a relatively small percentage of U.S. farmland, accounting for less than 1% according to Pew Research, certain U.S. farming groups have raised concerns. Notably, much of the Chinese-owned land is held by Smithfield Foods, a pork producer based in Virginia, acquired by Chinese firm WH Group in 2013.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Congress have sought to limit foreign governments from acquiring large tracts of agricultural land and land near strategically important military sites. The bipartisan goal of restricting the Chinese government's purchase of extensive agricultural land in Louisiana has received support within the state.
During a hearing in front of the House Civil Law Committee, Hodges argued that her bill is aimed at countering "communistic" countries, highlighting China's ongoing "stealth war" through the acquisition of valuable and strategically important U.S. land. She asserted that her bill is necessary to safeguard Louisiana from "infiltration and destruction from within."
Two other bills, House Bill 125, sponsored by Rep. Mike Echols, and Senate Bill 91, sponsored by Sen. Barry Milligan, have narrower scopes and have faced less scrutiny. Nonetheless, protesters have urged lawmakers to reject these bills as well.
Echols, R-Monroe, secured unanimous support in the House for his more focused bill, House Bill 125, which restricts individuals and governments from the same list of countries from buying agricultural land. He assured the leader of the House Democratic Caucus that the bill would not affect people's right to purchase a home.
The bill passed with a vote of 99-0.
Senate Bill 91, introduced by Sen. Barry Milligan, targets the acquisition of land near military bases. Its fate will be determined in the upcoming Senate session later this week.