There are seven nations listed in Florida Statutes as “foreign countries of concern” — China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela — and pretty soon, state colleges and universities may largely have to shun them.
Like the Senate did last month, the House unanimously approved a measure (SB 846) to prohibit relationships between those countries and Florida’s higher education institutions and their staff.
The bill, now ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature, would ban state schools, their employees and representatives from soliciting or accepting gifts or grants from those countries beginning July 1.
It would also bar them, beginning Dec. 1, from participating in any agreement or partnership with a school or entity based in or controlled by one of those nations.
Institutions found to be in violation of those strictures would face funding cuts.
The measure, which Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila carried in the Senate and Lakeland Republican Rep. Jennifer Canady ushered through a final House vote Tuesday, follows a series of incidents involving professors at universities absconding to China with intellectual property. Some possibly stole military secrets as well, alarming U.S. officials.
A former University of Florida professor, Lin Yang, was indicted in February 2021 for making false statements to U.S. officials and obtaining a $1.75 million grant from the National Institutes of Health under false pretenses. Yang had fled to China two years earlier.
Since 2016, four University of Central Florida professors fled to China as law enforcement sought to question some of them over their ties to Chinese institutions. Six Moffitt Cancer Center researchers resigned in 2019 following reports they didn’t disclose their ties to China. Miami Dade College also closed its Confucius Institute program in 2019 following accusations it was a front for the Chinese government to promote its interests.
Ávila told Florida Politics his bill is part of a larger legislative effort to curb foreign influence that includes bills to block the seven nations from buying land within 20 miles of critical infrastructure and banning the installation and the use of the Chinese social media app, TikTok, on government and public school devices.
“We see what’s happening with Russia and their aggression as of late, particularly with Ukraine, but in the area as a whole. We’ve seen the Chinese government try to exert its influence in the South China Sea and putting pressure on Taiwan and on the region, which is creating a certain level of instability in the area,” he said.
“With those activities, we want to make sure our institutions are not being influenced by those governments.”
The U.S. Department of State says China is engaged in “Military-Civil Fusion,” an aggressive national strategy to modernize its People’s Liberation Army as a “world-class military” by 2049 through the systematic targeting and theft of advanced technologies.
To achieve that goal, China has established partnerships with American schools, including 20 such arrangements that have either existed or are ongoing in Florida, Canady said last month.
“Not all collaborations are problematic. Some of them are quite beneficial,” she said. “But common sense dictates that Florida universities must not have ties to the Chinese Communist Party (and the) civil-military fusion strategy that is often executed through research labs associated with Chinese universities.”
Canady said nearly 4.5% of the gifts Florida universities accepted last year came from the problematic countries, including 19 gifts from China and two from Russia. In total, the gifts — which ranged from goods, services and donated art to funding for research, degree and clinical trial programs — totaled roughly $5.2 million.
DeSantis called for a ban on collaborations and gift-giving between Florida schools and China in September, when he signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from contracting with China-based companies for projects that could give them access to Floridians’ personal data.
That followed legislation the Governor signed in June 2021 requiring Florida colleges and universities to report donations or gifts worth $50,000 from the seven countries of concern. Under that law, companies seeking state contracts of $100,000 or more must now also disclose connections to those countries.
Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics contributed to this report.
May 3, 2023 at 12:50 am
A bill with more DeSantis FREEDUMB!
May 3, 2023 at 8:00 am
The Democrats literally tried to ban discussion of China’s culpability for COVID.
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