Georgia governor signs bill into law restricting land sales to some Chinese citizens

Georgia has a new law that limits the ability of some Chinese citizens to buy land in the state

Sudhin Thanawala
Tuesday 30 April 2024 21:36 BST
Land Ban Georgia
Land Ban Georgia (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday signed a bill into law limiting the ability of some Chinese citizens to buy land in the state.

The bill, SB420, echoes measures already signed into law in numerous other states. It bans any “agent” of China from buying farmland in Georgia or any commercial land near military installations.

Democrats in the state Legislature had blasted SB420 as discriminatory, but at a bill-signing ceremony in the southern city of Valdosta, the Republican governor touted it as a national security measure.

“We cannot allow foreign adversaries to control something as critical to our survival as our food supply,” Kemp said.

Critics said the measure — and others like it — reflected xenophobia and would harm immigrant communities.

“By signing this bill, Governor Kemp is shirking his responsibility to protect the equality, civil rights and constitutional right to due process of all Georgians and is instead engaging in anti-Asian scapegoating and anti-immigrant fearmongering,” said Cynthia Choi, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, a nonprofit opposed to discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The law bans agents of China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Russia who are not U.S. citizens or legal residents from owning farmland in Georgia or any commercial land in the state that is within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of a military installation unless they have spent at least 10 months of the previous year living in Georgia.

Though the measure targets other countries, much of the discussion about it among lawmakers at the state Capitol focused on China.

To be an agent, the person has to be acting on behalf of the country. The ban extends to businesses in those countries as well, but does not apply to residential property.

Other critics warned that the bill could face legal hurdles.

“In time, we will see that this bill preempts federal law and violates people's constitutional protections,” said Thong (T-AH-m) Phan, with the Atlanta chapter of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

States including Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas passed similar bans last year, and Democrats have also raised concerns about Chinese ownership of farmland in the U.S. and supported such measures.

The laws gained traction after what authorities suspected to be a Chinese spy balloon flew over the U.S. and entities connected to China purchased land near military bases in North Dakota and Texas.

Kemp also signed several other bills Tuesday, including one banning the sale of CBD and other consumable hemp products to people under 21 and requiring the products' manufacturers to measure and list the quantity of THC and other compounds they contain. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

A second measure toughens penalties for people who make or sell drugs laced with fentanyl that lead to someone's death. Under SB465, they would be subject to a felony charge of aggravated involuntary manslaughter.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is often added to other drugs and has become a major contributor to overdose deaths in the U.S.

Georgia's bill is named after Austin Walters, who died in 2021 after taking a pill laced with fentanyl.

"Austin’s Law will help save the lives of Georgians by fighting back against the criminals that traffic these deadly substances,” Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said in a statement after the bill was signed.

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