Bill preventing ‘adversarial’ countries from owning Georgia farmland moves to governor’s desk

Buggs farm

Buggs farm. (Credit: Brandon Franklin)

Editor’s note: On Tuesday night, the Senate agreed to the House version of SB 420 and the bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

The Gist

Georgia House lawmakers on Thursday wrestled vigorously over a Senate bill that bans foreign adversaries from buying Georgia farmland before ultimately passing the controversial legislation.

Senate Bill 420 passed the House 97-67.  

What’s  Happening

SB 420, sponsored by Sen. Jason Anavitarte, is intended to keep Georgia farmland out of the hands of countries that the U.S. government has deemed to be adversaries. It also keeps those adversaries from buying land near Georgia’s 13 military bases. The bill is an effort to protect the nation’s food supply and national security. Agriculture is Georgia’s No  1 industry. 

But opponents called the bill xenophobic, insisting it will do more harm than good. It will invariably fuel anti-immigrant sentiment and discriminate against American-born citizens, especially those of Asian heritage, opponents said. China and North Korea are two of the six foreign adversaries. The others are Cuba, Russia, Iran and Venezuelan politician Nicolás Maduro (the Maduro Regime).

Opponents also argued that the bill violates the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, and will likely invite lawsuits and federal fair housing challenges similar to what Florida currently faces.  Last month, a federal court blocked Florida law banning Chinese citizens from owning property in that state. 

“This is actually just one of five bills we’ve seen introduced this term … aimed to weaponize racism, xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment while wrapping itself in the cloak of national security and patriotism,” Rep. Michell Au, D-Johns Creek, said Thursday.

Rep. Clay Pirkle, R-Ashburn, said he had worked on the bill for two years and that it has been “fully vetted” by legislative counsel to ensure it does not violate fair housing laws or discriminate against “anyone who’s living here. … It ensures those who wish to come here legally and pursue the American dream can do so.”

Why it Matters

“Clumsy bills like this make the classic mistake of conflating immigrants with the countries that they are from,” said Au, the American-born daughter of Chinese-American immigrants. “In my two terms in the Georgia General Assembly, I personally have been accused of being an agent of the Chinese Communist Party, a spy, a plant, unAmerican and a foreign asset. And that’s just this week.”

Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, noted that the bill is full of loopholes that provide exceptions for agents or companies from countries deemed adversarial to lease land to develop and grow crops and for experimental research in agriculture.

Rep. Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone, said the bill would ultimately “tie up taxpayer dollars in litigation going against federal law, state law” as citizens sue for housing discrimination.

As for national security?

“I asked myself, ‘Where’s the national security risk?’ I do not see it in this bill,” said Jackson, a 22-year Navy veteran who worked in the Pentagon. “I do see it as a way to discriminate and violate federal law.”

Supporters insist the bill is neither racist nor a violation of federal housing laws. It’s simply about protecting national security, they say.

“As a nation, we have the ability to produce the highest quality, cheapest, most affordable, most abundant food supply of anywhere in the world,” Rep. Steven Meeks, R-Screven, said. “We can only do that on land that we own. Land that we control. What this is about is our ability to continue to feed ourselves. Take a look around the world. And look at those countries who have had blockades put in place where they can’t get food in. I don’t have to tell you what’s happening. You know. This bill is simply about Americans being able to feed Americans. End of story. Because if we can’t feed ourselves, we can’t defend ourselves.”

What’s Next?

If the bill is signed into law, Georgia will join about two dozen other states that have enacted laws that severely limit or ban foreign ownership of U.S. land. 

How likely is the governor to sign SB 420?

“It would have to go through our bill review process and then once that process is complete, we’ll make an announcement whether it will be signed or vetoed,” the governor’s spokesman Garrison Douglas told State Affairs

With Sine Die a week away, the governor is expected to see more bills cross his desk. He has 40 days after the session to sign legislation into law. 

 To see bills that the governor has already signed, go here.

Have questions? Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

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Correction: This story has been updated with the correct sequence of legislative action.