DeSantis signs bills limiting Chinese land ownership, TikTok at schools

“Today, we’re really recognizing the threat, and we’re taking action,” DeSantis said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis waves to the crowd as he makes his way onto the stage during an event at the OCC Road House & Museum 10575 49th Street North on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Pinellas Park.
Gov. Ron DeSantis waves to the crowd as he makes his way onto the stage during an event at the OCC Road House & Museum 10575 49th Street North on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in Pinellas Park. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 8|Updated May 8

TALLAHASSEE — Saying that China posed a threat to Floridians, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed three bills targeting Chinese influence in Florida’s schools, universities and agriculture.

During a news conference in Hernando County, DeSantis signed legislation that would ban the use of TikTok and other Chinese apps on school and government servers, limit land purchases by Chinese citizens and prohibit universities from accepting funding from China.

“Today, we’re really recognizing the threat, and we’re taking action,” DeSantis said.

The three measures were passed with bipartisan support by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which ended its annual session on Friday.

The bills also target other nations labeled “countries of concern” by Florida — Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Syria.

SB 258, which takes effect July 1, orders DeSantis’ administration to create a list of apps created by, or hosted by, countries of concern that should be banned on state and local government-issued devices and servers.

Students, for example, would not be able to access TikTok on their personal devices if they’re on a school or government Wi-Fi network. More than 150 million Americans are regular users of the video-sharing social network.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration banned TikTok on government-issued devices over data collection concerns.

SB 846, effective July 1, forbids colleges and universities and their staff from accepting gifts or grants from, or signing agreements with, colleges based in countries of concern.

The ban includes student and faculty exchange programs and dual-degree programs. The ban could be waived by the university system Board of Governors.

“The (Chinese Communist Party) has done a really, really effective job at identifying some of the soft underbelly of American society and really focusing on academic infiltration and influence,” DeSantis said.

By far the biggest effect on Floridians could come from SB 264, also signed Monday, which limits land purchases by residents of countries of concern.

Residents and companies of countries of concern will be prohibited from owning agricultural land, and any land within 10 miles of a military base or critical infrastructure facility, such as seaports, airports and wastewater treatment plants.

Current owners would have to register the property with the state by Jan. 1 or face $1,000-a-day fines and having the property seized by the state.

“We believe protecting our food supply is a security issue,” DeSantis said Monday, referring to concerns about foreign actors buying agricultural land.

The bill singles out people and companies from China by forbidding them from owning land anywhere in the state if they’re not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.

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During the legislative session, hundreds of Chinese Americans and permanent residents, including university professors and businesspeople, protested the measure. They said it would cause people to avoid selling to anyone with a Chinese-sounding name. Under the bill, closing agents could face civil or criminal penalties if they have “actual knowledge” the sale would violate the law.

During a floor debate on SB 264 last week, the Democratic and Republican co-sponsors claimed the speakers were bused in from Texas and “do not have our country’s best interests in mind.” Nearly all of the speakers listed a Florida address, and many were easily verifiable through land-purchase records.

Lawmakers later amended the bill to allow an exception to the land-buying restrictions. Anyone, including from China, could buy one property up to 2 acres if it’s not within 5 miles of a military base and the land is in the name of someone with a nontourist visa.

Lawmakers have justified SB 264 by citing reports of Chinese people buying land around the country and federal charges being filed against two men accused of running an unauthorized Chinese police outpost in New York City.

Many state legislatures are considering similar restrictions.

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