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DeSantis & Florida lawmakers take aim at China

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press conference in Brooksville.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a press conference in Brooksville. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers are adding China to the growing list of targets for the 2021 Florida legislative session, which gets underway on Tuesday.

Newly filed bills include measures that aim to limit intellectual property theft by the communist regime and crack down on Chinese influence at American colleges and universities.

“The growing presence of the Chinese communist party influence in domestic and international affairs is one of the most pervasive threats to American security and prosperity,” DeSantis said during a Monday news conference.

The governor and House Speaker Chris Sprowls are backing two proposals.

The first seeks to curb Chinese influence in the academic field by requiring transparency for donations from foreign governments over $50,000 and punishing institutions that don’t comply.

“Florida is known for our sunshine and transparency,” Sprowls said. “No longer will foreign interests be able to hide payments through subsidiaries and front companies.”

The bill follows indictments of professors at the University of Florida and University of Central Florida who are alleged to have ties to the Chinese communist party.

“I too believe we are just scratching the surface of what is out there,” said State Rep. Erin Grall, who’s sponsoring the bill in the House. “Florida is taking bold steps to protect our institutions from countries that do us harm.”

A second piece of legislation would increase penalties for corporate espionage, raising theft of trade secrets to a second-degree felony offense and trafficking trade secrets to a first-degree felony.

“The theft of trade secrets and intellectual property must stop and these laws will place Florida in a position to end it,” State Sen. Jennifer Bradley, one of the bill’s sponsors, said.

DeSantis and lawmakers left the news conference without taking questions, but the legislation isn’t unexpected. The governor has promised to take action against the Chinese government throughout the pandemic.

Also filed this year is legislation that blames China for the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It would prevent state and local governments from purchasing products wholly made in China or products assembled outside the US containing less than 25 percent American-made parts.