Less than three weeks after being filed, a bill blocking China and six other “countries of concern” from buying or holding interest in land within range of strategic sites in Florida is heading to the Senate floor.
The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to advance the measure (SB 264), a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson intended to safeguard state security against foreign threats.
Countries named in the legislation — which also includes provisions to protect Floridians’ health information — include China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela.
If passed, the bill would ban the governments of those nations and businesses based there from owning real property within 20 miles of “critical infrastructure.” That includes military bases, water treatment facilities, power plants, emergency operation centers, seaports, telecommunication facilities, police stations and other such structures.
Tampa Republican Sen. Jay Collins, a decorated Army Special Forces veteran and the bill’s sponsor, said the measure “does a very good job of protecting our strategic-level interests.”
“We’ve talked about the humanities issues around the world,” he said. “Frankly, there are people who just don’t believe in the American dream and the American way of life.”
As an added layer of protection, Collins’ bill — as well as a House version (HB 1355) by Republican Rep. David Borrero and Democratic Rep. Katherine Waldron — would require documentation from potential buyers attesting their good intent. Any entity purchasing agricultural or real property within 20 miles of a military base or critical infrastructure must provide an affidavit affirming compliance with the proposed law, which would go into effect July 1.
The bill also bars government agencies in Florida from entering into contracts with those seven countries for services that include access to personal information.
Similarly, it would also require health care providers to ensure that the repositories for their patients’ digitally kept records are located within the United States. An amendment the panel approved Wednesday expanded that proviso to also allow storage of that data in U.S. territories and Canada.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, any company bidding on government contracts involving access to Floridians’ personal information would have to provide a signed affidavit asserting a foreign country of concern does not own the company or hold a controlling interest in it.
Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila, a lieutenant in the Florida Army National Guard, co-introduced the bill.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 6.3% of nearly 22 million acres of privately held agricultural land in Florida was foreign-owned in 2021. Senate staff wrote in an analysis that while it is “unclear” how much of that land — roughly 1.4 million acres — belongs to China, “the (federal) department does report that (China) owns 96,975 acres in the ‘South Region,’ which includes Florida.”
SB 264, HB 1355 and a similar but more limited measure (SB 924) Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman filed last month — more than two months after Collins and Borrero announced their legislation — complement an executive order from President Joe Biden. The executive order, which Biden signed Sept. 15, defines additional national security factors the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. must consider when evaluating transactions.
Biden acted in response to growing, bipartisan concern among government officials over protecting Americans’ data, enhancing U.S. supply chain resilience and safeguarding the country’s position as a tech leader.
“The United States’ commitment to open investment is a cornerstone of our economic policy, benefits millions of American workers employed by foreign firms operating in the United States, and helps to maintain our economic and technological edge,” the executive order said.
“However, the United States has long recognized that certain investments in the United States from foreign persons, particularly those from competitor or adversarial nations, can present risks to U.S. national security.”
Isabelle Garbarino, director of legislative affairs for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, signaled support for Collins’ bill Wednesday.
HB 1355 and SB 924 both await a committee hearing.