Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill into law that targets United States-adversarial countries, but has many Chinese groups worried it will lead to discrimination.
In its final form, the bill prevents foreign countries of concern and their officers from buying farmland as well as property within 10 miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure facility.
And no one connected with the Chinese government or the CCP is allowed to purchase real estate in Florida under the bill, nor can anyone who is “domiciled” in China and not a United States citizen or legal permanent resident.
“Today is one example of Florida really leading the nation in terms of what we’re doing to stop the influence of the Chinese Communist party,” DeSantis said at a press conference Monday.
Lawmakers added in an exception for non-tourist Visa holders or those granted asylums, as long as they buy one real estate property that is not within five miles of one of these installations and not larger than two acres.
“We want to make sure that our agricultural land is not compromised by CCP influence,” DeSantis said. “[The law] ensures our seaports, it ensures our airports, powerplants, telecom systems and other critical infrastructure will not be compromised by the CPP or any foreign adversary.”
The bill passed the Florida House by a 95-17 vote and the Senate with only eight lawmakers opposed.
DeSantis on Monday also signed SB 258, which puts into statute and expands Florida’s government device ban on TikTok and other foreign country of concern-created, maintained or owned apps. He signed SB 846, too, which bans state colleges and universities from accepting gifts from and making agreements with foreign countries of concern.
Many of DeSantis’ comments behind the podium Monday appeared geared toward a national audience.
“When you look at foreign threats, and you look at a country like China and their ambitions, one you’ve got to recognize the folly of prior American policies for the last generation,” said DeSantis, who is expected to soon announce a presidential run. “A strong America abroad requires a strong America at home, and I think the elites in this country have ignored problems at home for far too long.”
SB 264, which goes into effect on July 1, bounced between the Senate and House with different amendments and different Democrats expressing concerns last week, until it finally passed Thursday evening.
It targets “foreign countries of concern,” including Russia, Cuba, Iran and North Korea. It puts the biggest spotlight on China, carving out language specifically devoted to how the legislation applies to its government and those connected with it.
“My concern has always been with the lack of definitions with some of the critical terms used in the bill,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa. “Because we have a lack of definition, if they were viewed to be overbroad, we could veering into the area of national origin discrimination.”
But the bill’s supporters rebuked those concerns, saying the bill needed to address national security.
“This bill should never be about right or left, or Democrat or Republican,” said Rep. David Borrero, R-Sweetwater, the sponsor of the House version of the legislation. “This is a bill that protects the national security interests of Floridians.”
The bill had been a big priority of DeSantis, who promoted many of the ideas seen in the legislation during a press conference in September.
It also prevents Florida governmental entities from entering into contracts with these countries of concern if personal identifying information is in play.
The legislation initially flew through the Capitol with bipartisan support, passing the Senate and two of three committees in the House without any fireworks.
Then a coalition of Florida Chinese groups caught wind of measure. At the bill’s last House committee stop, more than 100 people signed up to testify in opposition. Like Driskell and other Democrats who’ve spoken against the measure, they worry the language is too broad and will lead to discrimination.
They worry that property sellers will be reluctant to consider the Chinese community — or any other Asian community — over fears they’ll be breaking the law. And they say the legislation conflates Chinese people with the Chinese government and the CCP.
That conflation happened during the legislative process, as some of the bill sponsors — Borrero and Rep. Katherine Waldron, D-Wellington, another sponsor — alleging the CPP was behind opposition to the bill.
“I would invite you to look more closely at where those protests are germinating from and where the demonstrators who have shown up here and throughout the state in recent weeks actually live and what groups they are associated with before believing what they are selling you,” Waldron said.
But when the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida interviewed various protesters last month, none said they lived outside of Florida. And committee meeting records show almost all of the more than 100 people who tested against opposition to the legislation listed Florida addresses.
Echo King, a China-born Orlando immigration attorney who helped organize the turnout of a multitude of Chinese organizations to protest the legislation, denied the allegation and called it harmful and scary.
“I’m not CCP. Why would they think that?” king said. “I am afraid because there are already all kinds of rumors about me. But the thing is they can’t silence us. If I don’t stand up, what am I going to do?”
USA Today Network-Florida government accountability reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected]. Twitter: @DouglasSoule.