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Could Georgia’s proposed foreign ownership land ban pass judicial review?

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(The Center Square) — Georgia lawmakers have passed legislation that ostensibly bans “foreign adversaries” from owning agricultural land or property near a military base or airport, but one expert said it’s not clear the measure can stand up to judicial scrutiny.

Proponents say they crafted Senate Bill 420 in response to a Department of Agriculture report from 202 that found that China had roughly 384,000 acres of agricultural land across the country, a 30% increase from 2019 to 2020.

The “Chinese government essentially validated our longstanding suspicions of their willingness to undermine our national security, as evidenced by their deployment of spy balloons over military installations just last year,” state Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, said in a statement. “I take great pride in authoring this legislation, and I am confident that it will shield all Georgians while prioritizing homeland security.”

According to a news release, proponents of the measure say foreign ownership threatens the nation’s food supply and Georgia farmers’ livelihoods. Additionally, officials said the measure meets federal fair housing requirements as it exempts primary residences and includes timeframes for “covered nonresident aliens” to divest any agricultural properties they might own or acquire through an inheritance or a debt settlement.

“It’s unclear whether these bills could survive judicial review since they appear to involve state governments in foreign policy,” Jason Sorens, an economist at the American Institute for Economic Research, told The Center Square via email. “The broadest aspect of the Georgia bill is that it bans land ownership by any corporation domiciled in a foreign adversary as designated by the U.S. Department of Commerce within 10 miles of military bases, installations, and airports.

“That could include many private corporations and might prevent, for example, Chinese automakers from setting up factories in these states,” Sorens added. “It also prohibits individuals who work on behalf of foreign adversaries from owning this kind of land. The idea is to prevent industrial espionage, spying, and economic coercion.”

When asked whether Republican Gov. Brian Kemp might sign the bill, a spokesman was noncommittal.

“Once the General Assembly adjourns, the Governor has 40 days to act on legislation,” the spokesman told The Center Square via email. “During that time, all bills that reached final passage undergo a thorough review process. We will provide an update following action being taken.”