Kansas’s Governor Has Vetoed Plans To Limit Foreign Ownership Of Land

Kansas's Governor Has Vetoed Plans To Limit Foreign Ownership Of Land

Kansas’s Democratic governor vetoed a bill on Friday that would have limited foreign ownership of land. Top Republican lawmakers said the bill would protect military posts from Chinese spying.

The top Republican in the Kansas House said that Gov. Laura Kelly was “apathetic” about real threats to national security from China and other countries that the U.S. government has called “enemies of concern,” such as Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, and Venezuela. Foreigners from those countries would not have been able to own more than 10% of any non-residential land within 100 miles of any military installation, which would include most of Kansas.

A report from Kansas State University in the autumn of 2017 said that only one acre of privately owned agricultural land in Kansas was owned by Chinese people. The report also said that foreign individuals and companies held 2.4% of the state’s 49 million acres of private agricultural land. The bill would have made the university make yearly reports on all foreign property ownership, even business property that isn’t used for farming.

Kelly said in her veto message that the bill was “too broad” and could hurt “legitimate investment and business relationships.” She also said that Kansas needs better defenses against foreign enemies.

“I am not willing to sign a bill that could hurt the future economic growth and prosperity of the state,” Kelly said in her veto message.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration says that Kansas sent goods abroad worth $14.1 billion in 2023. Behind Mexico, Canada, and Japan, China was its fourth-largest trade partner, with $848 million worth of goods sent back and forth.

But Kansas already has rules about how corporations can own farmland. The National Agricultural Law Centre says that more than 20 other states limit the rights of foreigners to own land.

Before it was shot down early in 2023, a Chinese spy balloon flew over the United States for several days. It went over northeast Kansas, which is home to Fort Leavenworth, which is where the U.S. Army trains leaders. That made people more interested in putting limits on foreigners owning land in Kansas. There were already worries about this because of the building of a national biosecurity lab near Kansas State University.

A Republican from the Kansas City area named Chris Croft is the majority leader of the Kansas House of Representatives. He was one of the strongest supporters of the bill and said Kelly’s veto leaves the country’s military bases and other important assets “wide open for adversarial foreign governments.”

Croft said in a speech after the veto, “The assets of this state are too important for us to do nothing and wait until it’s too late.”

Some conservative Republicans, like Kris Kobach, the attorney general of Kansas, wanted even stricter rules. A plan that would make it illegal for foreigners to own more than 3 acres of land was backed by Kobach. A new state board would be allowed to make exceptions, though.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita, said, “Even though the governor doesn’t care, we’ll keep working to protect Kansas and its people from foreign bad actors who want to take advantage of land ownership loopholes.”

There were some Republicans in the state Senate who didn’t like the limits, and it looked like the bill was just short of the two-thirds vote needed to override velo. Foreign people and businesses that were touched by the bill would have had two years to sell their Kansas properties.

Some critics said that people who supported the bill did so out of fear of foreigners. They said that the main result would be to make immigrants, even those running away from oppressive governments, sell their businesses.

Democratic state Rep. Melissa Oropeza of Kansas City, Kansas, said before the bill was voted on, “If this bill affects anyone, it affects regular people who are trying to live the American dream.”

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