AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bill filed in the Texas Senate aims to ban citizens of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran from purchasing real estate in Texas.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed Senate Bill 147 amid concerns from some top Republican officials that foreign adversaries could endanger state interests by buying Texas land. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has been one of the most vocal officials in favor of the ban.

“Why would we want our enemies to own our most productive farmland?” Miller said. “Just use a little ‘cowboy logic.’ If we can’t buy farmland in your country, you’re not buying any here.”

Foreign entities own more land in Texas than any other state, with more than 4.7 million acres of Texas land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That amounts to just about 3% of all the privately-held land in the state.

Miller alleges a threat from a business with a Chinese chairman that tried to build a wind farm in Val Verde County near Laughlin Air Force Base.

“I sure don’t want them right next to one of our military installations so they can use espionage,” Miller said. “We know they steal trade secrets in the corporate world, so I only can imagine what they would do if they had the opportunity.”

That company, GH America, is owned by a former captain of the People’s Liberation Army, named Sun Guangxin. GH America denies it posed any security risk and refuted the claims repeated by Miller. In 2021, it tried to purchase 140,000 acres to build a wind farm, but the Lone Star Infrastructure Act blocked the project.

The Lone Star Infrastructure Act cites “acts of aggression towards the United States, human rights abuses, intellectual property theft, [and] previous critical infrastructure attacks” among the reasons to ban the nations’ businesses from connecting to the power grid, water and chemical plants, communications, and cyber systems.

This session’s bill goes significantly further by banning individual citizens from buying any real estate at all.

“Many of them are trying to become United States citizens and are waiting in line. And we’re telling them, ‘you’re not welcome here, you can’t buy a home, you can’t start a business,’ said State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston. “If we’re saying that Texas is no longer friendly for business, that’s a really dangerous statement.”

Wu pointed to his own family’s story Wednesday during a news conference at the State Capitol.

“Human beings who have no connection to a foreign government do not represent and should not suffer for those governments, especially people like my family who fled here, who sought refuge here,” Wu said.

Wu and other Democrats argue this session’s bill is racist, unnecessary and counter to Texas’ economic interests.

“He should at least understand that if this bill passes, it could wreck Texas farmers,” Wu said. “China is the third largest importer of Texas goods. Texas oil, Texas wheat, Texas corn, Texas soybeans — a lot of that is going to really, really damage farmers. Because if we pass this legislation, we could lose all these trade deals.”

Kolkhorst said her bill is meant to address national security concerns. She released a statement in response to concerns about the bill, suggesting the language could be changed to narrow the focus.

“The bill will make crystal clear that the prohibitions do not apply to United States citizens and lawful permanent residents,” Kolkhorst’s statement read. “This has always been about common-sense safeguards against Russian, North Korean, Chinese and Iranian authoritarian regimes, not those fleeing the tyranny of those governments who seek freedom in Texas.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott defended the bill while speaking to reporters at an event Wednesday at the Capitol, pushing back on the idea that the bill would affect people seeking citizenship.

“Obviously, none of us know what the final language will look like. I do think that would be a mischaracterization of what the bill seeks to do,” said Abbott in response to a question about Rep. Wu’s concerns. “We have a goal here, and that’s to prevent countries that are hostile to the interest of the United States from being able to buy up our farmland or other land that’s so important to us.”

Lawmaker proposes limits on lessons about race in Texas universities

Texas lawmakers proposed a bill this session to restrict lessons on race and gender from college campuses.

Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, filed House Bill 1607 on Wednesday, which would take away state funds from universities that teach “critical race theory” or CRT.

In the 2021 legislative session, Texas banned this concept from being taught in K-12 public schools. This year’s bill contains similar language, proposing that any institution of higher education may not teach that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is not inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Nexstar reached out to Harris’ office for further comment, but he was not available in time for this report.

Republicans have said the bill is meant to keep racist ideologies out of the classroom, while Democrats said it would perpetuate them. Eric McDaniel, who teaches government at the University of Texas at Austin, finds himself in the middle of the debate, and says that the bill would undercut his ability to have nuanced conversations about race.

“At the core of this, what they’re trying to do is limit how we can discuss race,” McDaniel said. “This is really at getting at systematic racism and systematic sexism, with the idea being that you have to ignore the fact that policies [that] have been put forth in the past have given benefits to certain groups in perpetuity, and therefore, undercut other groups.”

He thinks many politicians have mislabeled or misunderstood what CRT is, and he doesn’t want to lose in-depth conversations with students about the intersection of race and policy.

“It’s really a discussion of policy and how policies made in the past affect things today, which I think nobody would disagree with,” McDaniel said. “Not being able to talk about policy and not being able to talk about the effects of things and how they have long-term effects on people’s lives means there are so many things that I cannot discuss.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested that eliminating CRT curriculum on Texas campuses will be a priority:

“If you are having or teaching [CRT] to our college students, we will ban it in college,” said Patrick during his inaugural address. “I don’t want the teachers in our colleges saying America is evil and capitalism is bad, and socialism is better. And if that means some of those professors who teach that don’t come to Texas, I’m OK with that.”

‘We can do big things’ – Lawmaker proposes $15K pay raise for Texas teachers

A Democratic state lawmaker is bringing forward a plan to increase teacher salaries by $15,000, a proposal he calls the biggest pay raise in Texas history.

State Rep. James Talarico, D-Austin, unveiled this legislation Tuesday alongside at least a dozen other Democratic lawmakers. He said the state should spend part of its record budget surplus on this effort, though it’s unclear if Texas Republicans will support it.

“Raising teacher pay is something we can do and something we must do,” Talarico said.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, teacher salaries in Texas currently rank in the bottom 10 states across the country, with an average salary around $58,000.

Rep. Talarico’s bill would also include a 25% bump for support staff in schools — such as nurses, cafeteria workers, counselors and bus drivers. The average K-12 support staff salary in Texas is $29,067.

“Raising teacher pay is the single best educational investment we can make as a state and would provide true property tax relief,” Talarico said.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (a nonprofit that examines economic data) when adjusted for inflation, the average weekly pay of public-school teachers in the U.S. only rose $29 from 1996 to 2021.

During that same period, other college graduates experienced a $445 increase.

2019 legislation gave Texas teachers a pay raise; however, a report from the Texas American Federation of Teachers said that salaries actually decreased by an average of four percent in the past decade, when you account for inflation.

“Many teachers are still forced to get a second job in order to support themselves and their families due to our low salary,” said Deanna Perkins, a Leander ISD teacher.

That’s why Talarico said this big raise is needed now.

“We have an emergency teacher shortage in the state, and it requires emergency action by the Texas legislature,” Talarico said.

Talarico, himself a former middle school teacher, said there’s no excuse for failing to take bold action.

“When I was a teacher, I struggled to make ends meet and now, 40% of Texas teachers work a second job just to pay the bills,” he said. “It’s no wonder that thousands of teachers across our state are leaving the profession.”

Within the Austin Independent School District (AISD), the average teacher salary is just below $58,000. This school year, the AISD board of trustees approved a 2% raise at the pay scale midpoint and a $1,000 base pay increase for its teachers.

However, Ken Zarifis, the president of Education Austin, Austin ISD’s employee union, said it’s still not enough.

“If we don’t see significant increases in school funding for all, our public education system in the state of Texas will continue to deteriorate,” he added.

A ‘Living Wage’ study found that in Austin, a single adult with no kids would need to make roughly $55,000 dollars after taxes. KXAN investigators have found the average salary for Austin area teachers before taxes is $33,000-$54,000.

Talarico said he believes his bill will attract and retain the best teachers in Texas classrooms.

“I’m hoping, as much as possible, we can move the final product closer to $15,000 because, Texas, we don’t do things small, right? We do big things in this state,” Talarico said.

The Democrats at Tuesday’s news conference admitted the $15,000 proposed increase is the optimal amount, though they said negotiations with Republican lawmakers could result in a different number through this legislative session.

Republican leaders, such as Abbott and Patrick, are promising property tax relief, which could potentially take more money away from school funding.

Border policy changes bring backlash on Biden from Republicans and Democrats

House and Senate Democrats are urging President Biden to stop the recently expanded Title 42. Nearly 80 Democratic lawmakers signed an open letter to the President, calling for the end of new restrictions on who can seek asylum at the border.

The expansion expels asylum-seekers from Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti back into Mexico and makes them ineligible for re-entry into the U.S.

Texas Congressman Greg Casar said the new restrictions are pushing migrants away from ports of entry at the border, adding to the danger facing people seeking asylum.

“Those folks that are fleeing disaster, that are spending night after night on top of trains crossing hundreds or thousands of miles, fleeing for their lives will now be forced to risk drowning in the river, to risk crossing the desert, or to get in the back of a tractor-trailer,” Casar said. “It will not solve the humanitarian crisis.”

He and other Democrats are calling on the President to expand legal pathways for migrants and refugees to enter the U.S.

The administration has defended its policy, noting that it also expanded options for some asylum-seekers to stay in the country and get work permits. That expansion applies to people from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela who pass background checks.

That part of the policy led to a legal challenge from Texas and 19 other Republican-led states. Some lawmakers in those states call for tougher action at the border to stop drugs and human trafficking.

“Mexican drug cartels have control of our southern border,” said Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, at a news conference. “And with that control, they move lethal drugs, terrified human cargo and commit crimes wherever and whenever they are.”

“It is time we declared the cartels a clear and present danger to the national security the United States and treated them as such,” said Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Texas, speaking after Van Duyne. “If this were war, we’d be losing it and make no mistake, they’re fighting us every day.”

Casar said Congress needs to work toward immigration reform.

“There is a solution that people of conscience, Democrats and anybody across the aisle that wants to work with us, can bring forward that would solve the humanitarian crisis and address the politics, which means finally fixing our broken immigration system,” Casar said. “We can solve this challenge, but we have to ignore the cynics and do the work of solving the humanitarian crisis.”