House gives tentative approval to bills combating foreign influence

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Florida Capitol(WCTV)
Published: Apr. 13, 2021 at 4:41 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) - The Florida House is hearing two bills on Tuesday attempting to combat foreign influence and intellectual theft in the state.

The two proposals arose from the governor’s demand for the state to get tough on China.

Florida’s House Speaker is concerned with foreign influence and intellectual property theft in Florida, especially in the state’s universities.

“We found that there were researchers at the University of Florida, one of which was working on artificial intelligence, who had a secret relationship with China,” said Speaker Chris Sprowls.

That example, along with others from the Moffitt Cancer Center and UCF, are the driving factor behind Representative Cord Byrd’s legislation that requires more transparency from universities about foreign partnerships and donations.

“We need to do this at the state level to make sure that they aren’t getting in by the back door,” said Byrd.

There’s also an effort to protect business trade secrets from foreign actors.

Representative Mike Beltran worries not enough is being done at the federal level.

“It’s going to hurt our economy, especially if it’s done by foreign governments,” said Beltran.

He’s sponsoring legislation that would beef up penalties for corporate espionage and modernize state statutes to include virtual data theft.

“Almost all the intellectual property theft is done without actually appropriating a tangible object and we close that loophole that a lot of wrongdoers have used in order to escape liability,” said Beltran.

Both bills have moved quickly through the legislative process, receiving bipartisan support.

In the Senate the corporate espionage legislation is ready for a floor vote.

The legislation dealing with universities and local governments has one final committee stop in the Senate.

And it’s no secret, the main target of both bills is China.

“They are trying to gain not only an economic, but military advantage over us,” said Byrd. “And you know this is just the first step and if this doesn’t solve the problem then we will go further.”

That could potentially mean severing all ties between Florida’s universities and adversarial foreign governments.

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