Louisiana bill would block foreign adversaries from buying land in state

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A bill to block corporations linked to foreign adversaries from buying land or other immovable property in Louisiana is scheduled for a floor vote in the state House next week.

The House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure approved House Bill 537 this week, sponsored by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, with a vote of 11-1, sending the measure to the House floor for a scheduled vote on Tuesday.

“This bill is seeking to protect state sovereignty,” Hodges told the committee, stressing it would apply to “corporations who are seeking to control essential assets, not local residents with lawful status who want to contribute to Louisiana business, culture and community.”

Beginning Aug. 1, HB 537 would prohibit any person connected with a foreign adversary from purchasing, leasing or otherwise acquiring immovable property in Louisiana. It would allow the attorney general to bring action for injunctive relief on behalf of the state to block sales, investigate transactions, and petition the court to take action.

Legal options for the court include ordering a judicial sale, with the proceeds paid to the Department of Justice to fund services for veterans of foreign wars. The legislation was amended in the civil law committee to specify the law would not apply to American citizens, legal permanent residents, or single family residences. The bill ties the definition of foreign adversaries to a federal list that currently includes the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Cuba, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and Venezuela.

“I did try to address every concern that I heard with these amendments, because it is not targeted towards an individual,” Hodges said.

She pointed to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found China’s ownership of U.S. farmland grew 20-fold in the last decade, from 81 million to 1.8 billion worth of holdings in 2020.

Louisiana has the most foreign landowners overall at 5.89%, according to a 2020 USDA report.

Hodges also highlighted Louisiana’s important industries — from chemical manufacturers to ports to liquid gas terminals to military bases — that could be targeted by adversaries.

Numerous minority residents, including Louisiana State University professors, testified to oppose HB 537, citing concerns about unintended consequences for foreign students, and the message it sends to residents from other countries.

A representative from the Louisiana Land Title Association also raised concerns about a potential “chilling effect” on the state’s real estate industry, and complications with identifying whether buyers are tied to adversarial governments.

HB 537 is among several in the current session aimed at the issue, with HB 125, sponsored by Rep. Michael Echols, R-Monroe, specifically citing farm land purchases scheduled for a House floor debate on Monday.

Also scheduled for final passage in the upper chamber on Monday is Senate Bill 91, sponsored by Sen. Barry Milligan, R-Shreveport. SB 91, like HB 537, would also ban foreign adversaries from purchasing immovable property.

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