Despite growing concerns about the threat China poses to the United States, a bill to ban foreign ownership of land, including mines and oil fields, failed to pass the Wyoming House of Representatives on Monday.
Flying Over Us
“We’ve had a lot of problems with China lately in the air, with big balloons flying over us. This is a national and state security bill for Wyoming and the United States,” said Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest, the bill’s sponsor.
House Bill 116 applied to ownership by individuals or entities from China, Russia or other countries deemed by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism, which now includes North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.
Any current foreign owners of property in Wyoming from those countries would have had two years to divest of the property.
Allemand said he’s received a lot of emails about the bill, almost all of them supportive, saying that, “The people of Wyoming want this bill.”
Allemand said that many other states have similar bills in the works, including Iowa. Iowa’s bill also contains penalties that result in forfeiture of land.
Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs, pointed to a $100 million appropriation from a standing committee amendment that’s associated with HB 116.
This was to cover liabilities that would stem from a taking under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should foreign owners be forced to sell their land.
“They will not be getting the fair market value in the private market for it because they’re under duress to sell. People will be able to buy it at a significant discount,” Stith said.
Rep. Jeanette Ward, R-Casper, asked if the takings clause applied to only U.S. citizens, and Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, pointed to sections of the Wyoming Constitution that forbids any distinction between resident aliens and citizens as to possession, taxation and enjoyment of land.
Rep. Mike Yin, D-Jackson, pointed to the history of Japanese American citizens who were sent to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center, a concentration camp between Cody and Powell, during World War II.
“When they were released, Wyoming didn’t want them here,” Yin said.
The state passed alien land laws in an effort to prevent Japanese from settling in the state.
“I don’t want us to repeat history,” Yin said.
Rep. J.T. Larson, R-Rock Springs, pointed out that three of the four trona mines in Wyoming are foreign owned.
“This bill will really hurt the industry in Wyoming,” Larson said.
Rep. Jon Conrad, R-Mountain View, asked about Chinese citizens trying to escape oppression in their country. They would effectively be prevented from living the American dream, he said.
Ward countered that all they have to do is become U.S. citizens and all that opportunity, including land ownership under the bill’s provisions, would be open to them.
Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, talked about the trouble carrying out the bill if it were to become law.
The way Wyoming laws are set up, the nationality of property owners isn’t easy to know. An amendment to include a $5 million appropriation to the bill, which failed, was added because of the workload placed on the state to determine that.
He suggested that it would be better to take up the issue for an interim study this year rather than pass the bill and battle it out in the courts.
“The concept is great and there’s interest in it, but we don’t know how to do it,” Eklund said.
‘National Security Issue’
Rep. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, said that at the end of 2021, foreign businesses owned properties in 20 of 23 Wyoming counties.
Foreign ownership also has doubled since 2010. Banks said it’s not just private business, but also agricultural land, which is why 55% of alfalfa exports from the U.S. are from Chinese companies.
“When we allow our enemies … to control our food production, it’s a national security issue,” Banks said.
The arguments of opponents ultimately succeeded in killing the bill, which failed on a 39-23 vote.
Another bill, sponsored by Banks, seeks to ban foreign ownership of agriculture land in Wyoming. House Bill 88 applies to any foreign owner or entity. The House Agriculture Committee recommended it to pass, but the House Appropriations recommends the House not pass the bill.