AUSTIN (Nexstar) – A bill that aims to restrict Texas land sales to citizens from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran drew a crowd to the Capitol on Thursday.
More than 100 people testified at a hearing in the Senate chamber for Senate Bill 147. The bill from State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, aims to address fears from some top Republican officials that foreign adversaries could endanger state interests by buying Texas land.
SB 147, as originally filed, called for banning individual citizens from buying any Texas real estate. Critics of the bill said that could affect immigrants trying to purchase a home while they work through the years-long process of seeking citizenship.
Most of the people who testified at Thursday’s hearing spoke in opposition to the bill. One of them was Wei Li, who told lawmakers that he came to the U.S. in 2006 and now works as a college professor. He said he’ll be eligible to apply for citizenship later this month.
“This will be 17 years after I moved to the U.S.,” he said in his testimony. “Long journey, but deep down I know I’m already Texan long while ago. I can cook perfect, moist brisket. I even understand how to use ‘bless your heart’ properly.”
“But SB 147 and SB 711 are a slap on my face. It scoffs at me,” he continued, his voice breaking, “Sorry, you’re not Texan. People like you will not even deserve to own a home.”
Similar concerns have sparked rallies at the Capitol and criticism of Kolkhorst’s bill. The Senator said she listened to those concerns. At Thursday’s hearing, she filed a committee substitute, changing the bill to allow home purchases.
“Listening to people, we’ve met with so many people and [heard] their concerns. That’s why we changed the bill,” Kolkhorst said. She noted that many people who come to Texas from the four countries singled out in the bill are fleeing hostile governments.
“You can buy a home. You do not have to be a legal permanent resident or a citizen. Anyone can buy a home and homestead,” Kolkhorst said, describing the committee substitute she filed.
Sen. Kolkhorst said national security is the focus of SB 147. She said the bill aims to “secure national security for our state and our country because of the role that Texas plays in national security with all of our military bases and strategic refineries and different things we have here.”
The bill has backing from prominent Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott. After the changes to the bill, Congressman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs sent a statement applauding Kolkhorst’s efforts.
“I’m thankful Texas has champions like Senator Lois Kolkhorst working in our state legislature to protect our great state and its citizens from those who would do us harm,” McCaul’s statement read.
SB 147 builds on the Lone Star Infrastructure Act passed by state lawmakers in 2021. That bill cites “acts of aggression towards the United States, human rights abuses, intellectual property theft, [and] previous critical infrastructure attacks” among the reasons to ban businesses from those four nations from connecting to the power grid, water and chemical plants, communications and cyber systems.
State Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, voted for the Lone Star Infrastructure Act, but said SB 147 goes too far.
Before Thursday’s hearing, he posted a picture on Twitter, showing a section of the Texas Constitution. “The Texas Constitution itself forbids discrimination based on NATIONAL ORIGIN,” Wu’s post noted.
Kolkhorst said the criticism led to important changes to the bill.
“Senate Bill 147 with its revisions, allows anyone to buy a home and to declare that their homestead,” Kolkhorst said.
“We’ve made changes. And that’s the beautiful thing about America and Texas is that we come together and we discuss those, freedom of speech, being able to testify on a bill,” she said.