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Indiana advances bill to block land sales to Russia or China

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The author of a bill to restrict foreign land ownership said Monday state officials need to get out in front of the problem while they still can.

A bill working its way through the General Assembly would prohibit the sale of land directly adjacent to a military installation to anyone who is a citizen of Russia, China, Iran or North Korea or to any company or agency headquartered in those countries unless approved by the governor’s homeland security council. A House committee approved the bill unanimously Monday morning after adding language clarifying land next to a National Guard armory is also off-limits to such transactions.

The measure is a response to recent high-profile land buys such as an attempt by a Chinese firm to purchase cropland near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foreign individuals or companies owned more than 455,000 acres in Indiana as of the end of 2021. Canada, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom and Germany account for most foreign land holdings in Indiana, with more than 243,000 acres held by all other countries. The USDA does not have exact data for the number of acres owned by the four countries listed in the bill. Nationwide, Chinese citizens and firms account for less than 1% of foreign-owned land in the United States.

Sen. Justin Busch, a Republican from Fort Wayne, said China in particular has become very strategic about which land it acquires. He said officials there are taking advantage of weaknesses inherent in an open society.

“You can have free access to buy land and things of that nature, and it looks like what they want to do is use democracy and our freedoms that we have and are afforded to us in this country and use some of those things against us,” he said.

The Senate approved Busch’s bill in early February. It got bipartisan support but Sen. Andrea Hunley, a Democrat from Indianapolis, said at the time she feared dual citizens in particular would get caught up in any subsequent investigations. The bill allows any citizen to file a complaint about a foreign land transaction with the attorney general’s office, which could then investigate and force a sale, if necessary. Hunley was one of seven Democrats who voted against the bill.

“I hear Sen. Busch … but I want to make sure that we’re balancing the need for safety with the possibility of government overreach,” she said.

Busch said he wasn’t aware of any existing land owned by anyone connected with the four countries in the bill. If there is, he said, it would ultimately be up to the governor’s homeland security council to decide whether further action was needed. He said he felt confident they would make the right decision.

The bill now moves to the full House. If it passes that chamber, the Senate would have to sign off on the changes the House has made.