DeSantis signs bills targeting China influence
Photo by Alejandro Luengo on Unsplash
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida
May 8, 2023
TALLAHASSEE --- Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed three bills intended to curb the influence of the Chinese government in Florida.
The measures will restrict land ownership in Florida by Chinese citizens, ban the use of Chinese-owned social media platforms such as TikTok and WeChat on government devices and further limit colleges and universities from building relationships with foreign “countries of concern” such as China.
DeSantis said the legislation, which will take effect July 1, “makes it very clear we don't want the CCP (the Chinese Communist Party) in the Sunshine State.”
“They have established a position of economic might, of industrial hegemony, and their military is far stronger today than it was 20 or 25 years ago,” DeSantis said during a bill-signing event in Brooksville. “They have a leader who's very ideological and is intent on expanding CCP influence, not just in their region but even around the globe.”
DeSantis, who has been working to build international credentials ahead of an anticipated presidential run in 2024, blamed “elites in our own country” who for a generation have favored “short-term profits” with China. He did not specify the individuals.
Lawmakers passed the measures targeting foreign countries of concern --- China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Venezuela --- during the legislative session that ended Friday and drew opposition from some Chinese Americans.
The most-contentious measure (SB 264) seeks to largely prevent Chinese citizens from purchasing land in Florida. The legislation would allow Chinese citizens with non-tourist visas to acquire single parcels that are under two acres and located at least five miles from military installations.
In voting against the legislation last week, House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who is an attorney, called the bill “overly broad” and warned it could result in lawsuits by “veering into the area of national origin discrimination.”
The legislation also seeks to prohibit governments, citizens and businesses from foreign countries of concern from acquiring agricultural land in the state. Also, it will prohibit the sale of property located within 10 miles of military bases and other critical infrastructure --- seaports, airports, power plants and water treatment facilities --- to interests tied to the Chinese government or other foreign countries of concern.
Meanwhile, DeSantis signed a bill (SB 258) that expands on a September 2022 executive order directing the state Department of Management Services to create a list of prohibited social-media applications that it considers security risks and to block access on state-owned wireless networks. The bill came amid a national debate about restricting access to the widely popular TikTok app for security reasons.
Also, DeSantis signed a measure (SB 846) that, in part, will ban state colleges and universities and employees from accepting gifts from such things as colleges based in foreign countries of concern. It also would restrict state colleges and universities from entering into agreements with their counterparts in foreign countries of concern.
State university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues touted the new law as “preventing certain countries from being able to “exploit the academic freedom that we have here” in Florida.
If a college or university entered into an agreement without approval, the State Board of Education or the university system’s Board of Governors could sanction the schools or withhold what is known as performance funding, which can amount to tens of millions of dollars in some cases.
The law expands on a 2021 law that created new reporting requirements for entities seeking grants or contracts from the state.
--- News Service staff writer Ryan Dailey contributed to this report.