Alabama Senate passes revised bill on foreign land ownership

New version drops ban on Chinese citizens owning land in the state

Spectators watch from the gallery as the Alabama Senate convenes for the 2023 legislative session March 7 in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Julie Bennett, File)

The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a bill that originally would have imposed sweeping restrictions on the ability of Chinese citizens to own and purchase land in Alabama.

Senators voted 26-7 for a substitute version of House Bill 379, sponsored by Rep. Scott Stadthagen, R-Hartselle, that would ban Chinese government officials, as well as officials in Iran, North Korea and Russia from acquiring land in Alabama.

"What this substitute does, it changes it from being China oriented to being foreign countries of concern, basically, for governments or government entities of those foreign countries of concern," said Sen. David Sessions, R-Grand Bay, who carried the bill on the Senate floor.

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Stadthagen's original bill would have banned Chinese citizens, companies headquartered in China and the Chinese government from holding property in Alabama. The bill drew sharp criticism.

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said in an emailed statement that the original legislation was "profoundly xenophobic."

"This type of legislation continues a long history of racism by prohibiting their purchase of land," the statement said. "Unfortunately, it is only the latest in a series of discriminatory land law bills that are being pushed in state legislatures across the country."

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The substitute does not allow a "foreign principal" to own agricultural or forest property or property within 10 miles of a military base. Taiwan is explicitly excluded from the list.

"Foreign principal" is defined by a government or official of a country of concern, a political party or member, an entity with a principal place of business in another country of concern or country or government identified on a sanctions list by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, added an amendment that removed references to individuals that were defined under "foreign principal."

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"We know that some people have been coming to this country, because we are a big melting pot," he said. "We're all a big melting pot. All of us are from somewhere. Right? All of us are from somewhere. And so I want to applaud you for narrowing this back."

The bill returns to the House of Representatives.