Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has received bills to sign from the Florida Legislature that deal with foreign influence. The bills in question would crack down on China, and they come at a time when tension between the United States and China continues to rise especially after the release of a number of emails from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden (D). HB1523 updates trade secret law, arguing that if trade secret theft benefits either a foreign company or government, it would be a first-degree felony under the bill. The Governor recently held a press conference regarding China and the origin of the COVID-19 virus, arguing that it’s “almost impossible” that COVID-19 developed naturally.
In a news conference held at an American Legion post in St. Johns County, Governor DeSantis commented on Fauci’s emails, criticized the Centers for Disease Control, and also endorsed the idea that the COVID-19 virus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan, China after one of the emails showed virus researcher Kristian Andersen commenting that “some of the features (potentially) look engineered.”
Governor DeSantis expressed that China is a central threat to the United States, and HB1523 aims to create the “Combating Corporate Espionage in Florida Act” through amending trade secret theft definitions and crimes that are currently in place. For example, the bill would create the crime of trafficking in trade secrets, and it would be reclassified from a second-degree felony to one degree higher if it’s committed with the intention of benefitting a foreign government. It is estimated that 80% of all economic espionage persecutions presented to the U.S. Department of Justice are committed to benefit China.
Florida Rep. Erin Grall (R), a sponsor of the bill, explained that the bill was created after the House Select Committee on the Integrity of Research Institutions conducted a review in 2020 of Florida’s university-based research programs. It then uncovered that federal officers were investigating around 200 cases regarding federal grant recipients of research funds that had failed to disclose academic, professional and business relationships that were in violation of various requirements.