House panel OKs bills to curb Chinese influence
Image via Colin Hackley.

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China and six other nations are named as countries of concern.

A Gov. Ron DeSantis-backed bill that would require groups to disclose funding from China and other adversarial countries when seeking large grants from Florida rolled forward Wednesday.

The House Education and Employment Committee voted unanimously to advance that measure (HB 7017), carried in the House by Vero Beach Republican Rep. Erin Grall, to its penultimate committee stop. Lawmakers approved the proposal with no comment.

Besides China, that list of flagged countries includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.

The legislation would force state agencies, local governments and colleges and universities to disclose donations and grants from those countries worth $50,000 or more. Applicants for grants from or those proposing contracts with state agencies and local governments would also have to disclose financial connections to any of those countries.

To continue the crackdown on influence in the state’s education institutions, the bill would require that research or education institutions with annual budgets of $10 million or more screen people who aren’t permanent residents of the United States when they apply for research positions in their institutions. The residency requirement would apply to graduate and undergraduate students as well.

That screening would also ask for a resume, applicants’ work and education history, and any published material they contributed to.

A separate provision would prohibit agencies, local governments, public schools and state colleges and universities from receiving funds from one of the countries or related entity to create a program promoting the language or culture of those countries.

DeSantis announced the proposal earlier this month, the day before the Legislative Session began. Grall and House Speaker Chris Sprowls stood alongside DeSantis for that announcement.

“The long-term goals and interests of the Chinese Communist Party are antithetical to the basic tenets of the American republic,” DeSantis said during the announcement.

Sprowls said Republicans’ proposal would bring sunshine to China’s intelligence efforts, in which they attempt to “steal their way to a strategic advantage.”

“They set up foreign propaganda machines in the United States under the guise of benign-sounding cultural agreements and twist the utopic notion of international exchange into a weapon of coercion and bribery,” Sprowls said.

During that announcement, Grall told reporters her proposal would increase transparency around foreign donations and foreign agents in Florida and its universities.

“Make no mistake. There are foreign governments and companies that want to steal our research and secrets and do us harm,” she said. “They have developed elaborate layers of front companies and groups to hide their true intentions.”

Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Díaz is carrying the Senate version of Grall’s bill (SB 2010). It has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.

The second portion of DeSantis’ foreign influence proposal (HB 1523), carried by Lithia Republican Rep. Mike Beltran, passed unanimously on Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee. That bill moves next to the House floor.

Meanwhile, Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley ‘s version (SB 1378) is also in its final committee stop, the Senate Rules Committee.

That proposal would increase penalties for corporate espionage, including creating a second-degree felony for trafficking in trade secrets. Knowingly selling intellectual property to foreign adversaries would carry increased penalties.

Typically, foreign affairs are handled at the federal level, but Sprowls credited U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio with helping to raise the issue after he video-conferenced into a Florida House Public Integrity and Elections Committee meeting to warn about China’s foreign interference effort.

DeSantis, who is currently a top-contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination if he chose to run, denounced China, its trade policy and weakness in the face of its threat to the United States during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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