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Ban on real estate purchases by some foreign investors passes Senate

MONTGOMERY, Ala- The Alabama Senate approved a bill Thursday that would impose restrictions on the ability to purchase property in the state for individuals and groups affiliated with China and other countries “of particular concern.”

As originally written, the bill would have prohibited Chinese citizens, Chinese entities and the Chinese government from purchasing any property in the state. An amended version of the bill offered in the Senate Agriculture Committee, and approved by the Senate, reduced the scope of the bill but expanded the countries to include Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, the bill proved controversial last week when presented on the House floor, though ultimately passed with a vote of 73-23. In response, dozens of Chinese Alabamians from across the state rallied in front of the Alabama State House Wednesday in opposition of the bill.

At the beginning of the committee meeting, Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, the chair of the committee, explained to the packed room that a significant amendment had been introduced. Instead of a blanket ban for citizens, entities and a country’s government from purchasing property, the amendment would instead only prohibit certain people and entities from those countries from purchasing agricultural and forestry land, or any land within ten miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure.

In the amendment, critical infrastructure is listed as being water treatment facilities, airports, electric plants, chemical manufacturing facilities, telecommunication switching offices and more. Despite the amendment reducing the scope of the bill in terms of how many people it would affect, given the high number of water treatment facilities and other critical infrastructure across the state, the bill as amended could still have far-reaching effects.

Regarding who the property purchasing restrictions would apply to, the amendment lists government officials, political party members, or corporations affiliated with a “country of particular concern.” Those restrictions also include those sanctioned by the federal government, as well as individuals who consider one of those four countries to be their permanent home, and are not an American citizen or lawful, permanent resident of the United States.

Under current law, noncitizens are legally allowed to purchase property, with more than 3.4 million owning homes as of 2014. Under Stadthagen’s bill as amended, only undocumented individuals from the aforementioned four countries would be prohibited from purchasing property in Alabama within 10 miles of a military installation or critical infrastructure, or any agricultural and forestry land.

The bill must now go back to the House to agree with Senate-made changes.

A number of Chinese Americans had signed up to speak on the bill during the committee meeting, including Lily Moore, vice president of Central Alabama Association for Chinese and lecturer at Auburn University in Montgomery.

“Suppose this bill passes like the original one, or even this amended one,” Moore said. “That means in the future, if anyone is buying or selling a house, the first thing I will look at is your appearance; are you looking like (you’re from) any of the countries on the list? This will just bring discrimination further.”

Lily Moore, vice president of Central Alabama Association for Chinese, speaks during the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee meeting.

Dr. Michael Guo-Brennan, an associate professor of political science and public policy at Troy University, also spoke against the bill, calling it “racist” and argued that it would lead to “extended legal challenges, of which the state would likely lose.”

“Anyone that appears to possibly be Chinese, or from any other unacceptable country, would have to prove they are not,” Guo-Brennan said. “They would literally have to ‘show their papers’ and prove that they are the ‘good’ Asians. How long until you require Chinese to wear yellow stars on their clothing?”

In response, Chairman Sessions said that the bill would mostly apply to individuals who were on the list of those sanctioned by the federal government.

“So if you’re on the wrong list you can’t buy land,” Guo-Brennan said. “Again, that’s racist.”

The amendment passed in the committee unanimously, and despite the opposition, the bill itself passed as well.

The bill saw some opposition when it reached the Senate floor on Thursday, however, did ultimately pass with a vote of 26-7.

Following the bill’s passage, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, praised it in a statement and argued that it was Alabamians’ responsibility to protect the state’s resources from foreign entities.

“The Alabama Senate supports this piece of legislation and the unwavering efforts of Sen. David Sessions in conjunction with Representative Scott Stadthagen to protect Alabama and our citizens from the influence and control of foreign entities that have no business intruding and purchasing Alabama property,” Reed said.

“Our state’s agricultural resources, available property, and security of our military installations are integral to our state’s economy and potential for success, and it is our responsibility to protect all of those.”


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