Senators seek to stop foreign ownership of Missouri land
Thu, 03/09/2023 - 11:14am admin
Samantha Dietel, Missouri News Network
Four proposed Senate bills aim to restrict foreign ownership of Missouri land.
The Senate Select Committee on the Protection of Missouri Assets from Foreign Adversaries heard testimony about the four bills Wednesday.
Some of the proposed Senate bills would eliminate all foreign ownership of agricultural land.
The House gave final approval to a bill Thursday that would cut foreign ownership of agricultural land from up to 1% of the land to 0.5%, sending the legislation to the Senate.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce opposed three of the Senate bills, while the Missouri Farm Bureau supported three.
Sen. Rusty Black, R-Chilicothe, sponsors SJR 38, which would create a proposed constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, this amendment would prohibit foreign ownership of agricultural land in Missouri after Aug. 28.
Phillip Arnzen, director of legislative affairs at the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, testified in opposition.
Arnzen said he was concerned that this amendment would limit investment and harm relationships with trade partners across the globe. Arnzen said Canada and Mexico are two examples.
"We believe that by limiting their ability to purchase some land in Missouri that this could send a chilling message to them," Arnzen said.
In response, Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonvile, who chairs the committee, said that most countries prohibit land ownership by foreign people or entities.
"When we talk about free markets and fair markets, it seems like it's, we're supposed to be an open door, yet every other country we deal with is extremely restrictive on that," Brattin said.
Brattin and Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, both referenced China when making comments against foreign ownership of agricultural land.
Brattin said that when a foreign entity purchases agricultural land in Missouri, they currently are prohibited from using the land for agricultural purposes.
Arnzen said the land is often used for research purposes and other activities.
SJR 41, sponsored by Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, would create the Joint Committee on State Security.
This committee would "determine which persons and entities shall be prohibited from acquiring title to real property," as well as "which social networking services shall be prohibited from being used on devices owned and operated by the State of Missouri," according to the bill summary.
Rowden said the bill already outlines some countries that would be on a "blacklist" that would not be allowed to own Missouri land in any capacity.
Rowden said these countries would include: China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria, and Cuba.
Rowden said this list could be flexible and adjusted in the future based on the "changing global landscape."
Emily LeRoy, senior policy advisor at the Missouri Farm Bureau, testified in support of the bill.
LeRoy said the Missouri Farm Bureau supports prohibiting foreign entities from owning agricultural land. She said she did not testify in support of Black's bill because having that amendment in the constitution was "beyond the scope of our policy."
She said that definitions and exceptions in Black's proposed constitutional amendment would need to be clear.
"We support prohibition, we support reducing the cap," LeRoy said. "That being said, the constitutional proposition was just a little too far for our comfort level right now."
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, sponsors SB 334, which would prohibit foreign businesses from acquiring real estate in Missouri beginning Aug. 28.
According to the bill summary, people who acquire land before Aug. 28 would be allowed to keep it but would not be allowed to sell to a foreign entity.
The bill would also require that if foreign businesses propose a transfer of agricultural land in Missouri, the Department of Agriculture would be responsible for determining whether the transaction would be allowed under the act.
Hoskins said one thing that makes his bill different from the other bills presented at the hearing is that it includes military bases. Foreign businesses would not be able to purchase or lease real estate within ten miles of certain military grounds or places of military manufacturing.
Hoskins said the language of his bill is still a "work-in-progress."
Brattin said it is important to develop policies that protect military bases and intelligence in this way.
Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said she was concerned for farmers and the bill's potential to impact other parts of trade.
"I'm just worried about unintended consequences, quite honestly," McCreery said.
McCreery said that this bill would be "putting a lot on the Department of Agriculture."
LeRoy testified in support of the bill and said that national security is essential.
Arnzen opposed the bill. He also said he did not oppose SJR 41 because it was more targeted.
Brattin sponsored a bill that would prevent any foreign business or entity from acquiring agricultural land in Missouri beginning Aug. 28.
Brattin said the bill would also prohibit foreign entities from getting into power generation, as well as other non-farming purposes.
"This is just a starting point, a framework of things that I personally saw as very sensitive areas that we need to address," Brattin said.
LeRoy testified in support of the bill, while Arnzen opposed for the "same reasons" as his previous testimonies.