Academic foreign influence bill clears final Senate committee
The House already passed companion legislation.

Cybercrimes and Corporate Espionage
An investigation exposed weaknesses in the state's research institutions.

A bill to keep foreign influence from “countries of concern” out of Florida’s research institutions is handily moving through the Senate, just as it did the House.

The bill passed its final Senate committee, Appropriations, Thursday with no debate. The day before, companion legislation (HB 7017) passed the House unanimously.

The Senate bill (SB 2010) requires greater disclosure of where Florida researchers are getting their grant money and prohibits some agreements between government agencies or schools with China and six other countries.

Sen. Manny Diaz, who sponsors the bill, added an amendment during the hearing, which he said maintains the major provisions of the bill with a few changes like adding protections for whistleblowers. The bill is now similar to the House bill that passed.

The idea for the legislation came after the House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions undertook a review in 2020 of Florida’s university-based research programs, according to the bill’s analysis.

The investigation arose out of revelations that the CEO of H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute and three other officers or research scientists had failed to disclose support from relationships with Chinese talent and research programs. After that disclosure, the University of Florida disclosed to the Select Committee that three of its research staff were under similar investigation. The Select Committee learned of additional investigations, some of which remain confidential because of active law enforcement inquiries.

As a result of the review, the bill outlines rules and procedures to keep adverse foreign influence at bay in Florida’s colleges and universities. The bill names China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria as “foreign countries of concern.” The list was chosen from the federal foreign adversaries list

Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed his support for this and other bills dealing with foreign influence at a press conference in March, specifically calling out China as a threat.

Under the bill, universities and state agencies would be required to disclose to certain state departments foreign donations and grants over $50,000 from the named countries. Applicants for those grants would also be required to disclose all foreign financial connections with any of the seven countries of concern.

The bill also requires universities with research budgets over $10 million to perform extra screening of foreign applicants for research positions and extra screening for foreign travel and employee activities.

If the new law gets the Governor’s signature, donations “conditioned on a program to promote the language and culture of any of seven countries of concern” would also be prohibited.

Haley Brown

Haley Brown is a capitol reporter for FloridaPolitics.com. Her background includes covering the West Virginia Legislature for a regular segment on WVVA-TV in Bluefield called Capitol Beat. Her reporting in southern West Virginia also included city issues, natural disasters, crime, human interest, and anchoring weekend newscasts. Haley is a Florida native. You can reach her at [email protected]



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