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Committee holds public hearing on bill to restrict Chinese citizens from buying property

The bill will move to the full Senate for deliberation and a potential vote.

A packed room for a public hearing on a bill that would have banned Chinese nationals from buying property in Alabama. Patrick Darrington/APR

On Wednesday the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a public hearing on a substitute bill for HB379, which would originally make it illegal for Chinese citizens to buy property in the state.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, who said previously that the bill was to protect against the national threat of China. Prior to the beginning of the public hearing committee, chairperson Sen. Davis Sessions, R-Mobile, presented a substitute bill that he believed fixed issues the original legislation had. 

“This legislation is not aimed at one specific group of people, although it may have appeared that way in its original format,” Sessions said.

The original format stated that it would prohibit Chinese citizens, the Chinese government, or Chinese entities from acquiring real property in the state. The substitute removed that language and broadened it to include specific entities listed on the Office of Foreign Asset Controls federal sanctions list. 

The substitute states the following “this bill would prohibit individuals domiciled in certain foreign countries, certain foreign governments, or governmental entities, and any person, country, or government identified on a sanctions list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control from acquiring agricultural and forest property in the state.” It would also prohibit these same entities from acquiring real property within 10 miles of any military installation or critical infrastructure facility in the state.

Due to the substitute being presented prior to the public hearing, the speakers could not adequately respond to the bill since they had not read it yet. However, five individuals still voiced their concerns during the hearing. 

Lily Moore, real estate agent and vice president of the Central Alabama Association of Chinese (CAAC), spoke about the contributions of Chinese citizens in Alabama. Moore stated that many Chinese citizens have done great work in the state and their communities and just want to be treated with respect. 

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Jari Chen, a high schooler, stated that she was afraid this bill could potentially become an excuse to justify more harmful discriminatory laws in the future. 

“So no matter like, whether people are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, they’ll be judged by their Asian face and I don’t want my future or anyone else’s future to look like that here in America,” Chen said.

Dr. Daowei Zhang, associate dean for research in the College of Forestry, Wildlife, and Environment at Auburn University, spoke about the potential economic cost of the legislation. Zhang mentioned that in 2022 China was Alabama’s second-largest export destination with over $4.8 billion in goods exported.

“This bill has no impact on the state’s national security, but harms our state’s economic security, investment climate and reputation,” Zhang said. “Thank you for your service. Thank you for listening. I hope I have differentiated some truths and fact from rhetoric and misinformation and respectfully urge you to vote against this bill.”

Linyuan Guo-Brennan, secretary for CAAC and professor of Global Leadership at Troy University, stated after the public hearing that although she was happy to see the Chinese community engaged, the substitute was still an issue. 

“Actually, if you check the federal sanction list anything related to China is a specific individual or organization, never a country,” Guo-Brennan said. “So that’s even bigger than the federal I don’t see how the state government can enforce that.”

The substitute bill does not specify how and who will be enforcing this law. 

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APR reached out to Stadthagen via phone and left two messages via email and has yet to receive a response from the representative.

The committee meeting room was too small to hold the entire number of spectators present including an abundance of more Chinese citizens from across Alabama. Those that could not stay in the room had to view the meeting from an overflow room.

Robin Hyden, executive director for Alabama Arise, was one individual who tried to spectate the meeting and was upset that the meeting was held in one of the smaller committee rooms and without a live stream. 

“I will say that the trend is that other contentious bills, like HB209 (the absentee voting bill), have also been held in this committee room that is much too small to accommodate all the visitors to the state house, again with no live stream,” Hyden told APR. “In 2023, there’s no reason why the people of Alabama should not be able to watch legislative proceedings, particularly public hearings, live.”

The substitute bill was given a favorable report by the committee and will move to the full Senate for deliberation and a potential vote

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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