Wyoming Lawmakers Will Try Again To Restrict Chinese Land Ownership

After Arkansas announced it will force a Chinese state-owned company to sell its property there, a pair of Wyoming lawmakers say they plan to reintroduce bills they pushed this last session to restrict property ownership by adversary nations.

LW
Leo Wolfson

October 19, 20236 min read

State Reps. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, left, and Bill Allemand, R-Midwest.
State Reps. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, left, and Bill Allemand, R-Midwest. (Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

Arkansas announced Tuesday it will require a Chinese state-owned company to sell 160 acres of agricultural land, likely becoming the first state to actually force a foreign country considered a U.S. adversary to divest itself of assets in America.

In response to concerns about China and other foreign adversaries spying on the United States, 24 states have passed legislation aimed at restricting foreign ownership of land in some way. During this year’s legislative session, two bills were proposed that aimed to do something similar in Wyoming, but neither were successful. 

A 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 35 million acres of agricultural land in America is owned by foreign citizens or businesses, including about 426,000 acres in Wyoming.

On Wednesday, the sponsors of both bills told Cowboy State Daily they plan to bring their legislation back in 2024.

“It’s coming back with a vengeance,” said state Rep. Bill Allemand, R-Midwest.

Ag Land Restrictions

During the 2023 session, Rep. Dalton Banks, R-Cowley, brought House Bill 88, which would have banned any foreign ownership of more than 1 acre of agricultural land, but contained a grandfather clause for current owners.

“This will play into dissuading those entities from buying property in the first place,” Banks said.

Banks said he is altering this bill to focus on foreign ownership from China, Iran, Russia and North Korea to avoid negatively affecting countries that the U.S. and its businesses have positive relationships with, such as Turkey, which is connected to significant trona production in Wyoming.

He said the bill would also include a reciprocity clause that would prohibit ownership to those from foreign countries that restrict American property ownership in their countries. 

Banks said his bill will keep the grandfather clause and focus on future ownership.

All Land Restrictions

Allemand brought similar legislation with House Bill 116, which would have banned all property ownership of more than 1 acre in the state by people, businesses or governments from Russia, China or other nations designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. 

Allemand said he plans to bring his bill back next session, but isn’t sure what its exact language will look like. He is weighing possible options regarding the size of property owned and its proximity to military bases, a particular concern raised throughout the country.

Criticisms

One of the chief critiques brought against both bills were questions of constitutionality and discrimination based on national origin. The Wyoming Constitution forbids any distinction between resident aliens and citizens as to possession, taxation and enjoyment of land. 

Banks and Allemand said they are both working on this to ensure their legislation can overcome constitutional concerns.

“I have been working closely with other legislators who expressed some concerns last session,” Banks said. 

Any legislation passed during the 2024 budget session must receive a ⅔ vote in both the state House and Senate.

Members of the Wyoming County Clerks Association also expressed concern for how they would validate the background of property owners on these bills, but Secretary of State Chuck Gray said his office wouldn’t have any issues with it.

Although Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, was one of the most vocal legislative opponents of Allemand’s bill, he successfully added a $5 million budgetary amendment to it that would have helped pay for its implementation. 

In September, Crago wrote an op-ed for Cowboy State Daily where he explained that although he agrees with the underlying premise of Allemand’s legislation, he said it was written in a way that “would have had devastating effects in Wyoming.” Crago said the bill amounted to an invasion of privacy, would hurt the economy and grow the government. 

“Despite House Bill 116 having fundamental flaws, the issue of foreign ownership of land is a topic we should address as a state,” Crago wrote. “We just need to do it the right way.”

Crago did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Allemand said the 2024 version of his legislation would not grow the government because it would rely on self-policing and reporting of illegal foreign ownership. If a foreign company was caught owning land illegally, he said the state would immediately seize their property and sell it off to another buyer within six to eight months.

“We’re not going after you,” Allemand said. “If you’re caught, you have to forfeit the land to the state.”

Some Reservations

Neither Allemand’s nor Bank’s legislation would likely go as far as what happened in Arkansas. Allemand said he has some slight reservations about infringing on an immigrant’s right to pursue the American dream. 

He also mentioned the example of a Chinese-based company that drills oil near his residence has been “a good neighbor.” 

The newly passed law in Arkansas bans a "prohibited foreign party-controlled" business from owning agricultural land in the state. 

The company targeted there, Syngenta, is owned by the state-controlled China National Chemical Co. A Syngenta spokesperson told CNN it had been on the property for 35 years.

Banks expressed hesitation about taking similar action to restrict foreign property ownership in Wyoming.

“That opens up a whole other can of worms because the property is already owned, and having the state go in there and just taking property — I’m not sure that we want to go that route,” he said.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the company is "on the Department of Defense's list of Chinese military companies posing a clear threat to our state."

Syngenta will have two years to sell its land, which according to Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin is worth about $1.12 million.

The company has already been fined $280,000 by Arkansas for failure to report foreign ownership in a timely manner, as required by a 2021 law. 

Other states have passed similar measures. According to Axios, a new Florida law bars most Chinese people who aren't U.S. citizens or permanent residents from owning property, and Montana bans the sale or lease of agricultural land and homes near military assets to entities from six countries, including China.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter