The bill (SB 264), which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, also would prevent Florida government agencies from entering contracts involving access to personal information with entities tied to countries of concern, namely China. Also, it would require health-care providers to ensure electronic technology keeps patient information within the continental U.S.
“There are countries that simply don't stand up for our way of life, our thoughts or ideas, ideals and principles,” bill sponsor Sen. Jay Collins, R-Tampa, said. “This bill protects, strategically speaking, our land and to make sure … we aren’t dependent on other countries for agriculture.”
While China is the primary focus of Collins’ proposal, other countries of concern are Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson have pushed for restrictions on farm-land acquisitions by people and entities linked to the Chinese government.
While she voted for the measure, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, questioned if the proposal creates a discriminatory situation “for individuals who are here in this country who want to purchase property.”
Collins said the intent is to differentiate between people who have migrated to the U.S. and people still tied to the targeted governments.
“We are not targeting individuals. We are talking about countries specifically and their practices on the international stage,” Collins replied.
States, according to a Senate staff analysis, have “narrow limits” to apply laws exclusively to “alien inhabitants,” but court decisions have determined “each state, in the absence of any treaty provision to the contrary, may deny to aliens the right to own land within its border.”
The bill would take effect July 1. People or entities that own agricultural land before then would not have to give up the property, but they would be prevented from expanding their acreage after that date.
Information is not readily available about how much agricultural land in Florida is owned by entities tied to China.
A Senate staff analysis pointed to a 2021 U.S. Department of Agriculture report in which 6.3 percent of the 21.85 million acres of privately held agricultural land in Florida was owned by foreigners of all nationalities.
“It is unclear how much of that land is owned by China, although the (federal) department does report that (China) owns 96,975 acres in the ‘South Region,’ which includes Florida,” the staff analysis states.
Also under the bill, starting Jan. 1, 2024, entities seeking to bid on government contracts that involve access to individual personal information would have to provide signed affidavits declaring they don’t rule afoul of prohibitions on ties to countries of concern.
Violations could result in civil penalties equal to twice the value of the contracts and five years of being ineligible to seek other contracts.
Collins’ proposal would need to clear the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate. A similar bill (HB 1355) has been filed in the House.
Gov. DeSantis has signaled that he was interested in broadening the scope to include countries like Russia and Venezuela.
Publisher Javier Manjarres contributed to this story News Service of Florida