Proposal would block foreign ‘threats’ from state’s ‘critical infrastructure’

By: - March 14, 2023 7:00 am
critical infrastructure

Indiana lawmakers are trying to protect critical infrastructure from foreign threat under a bill that passed committee Monday. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

A bill aimed at protecting Indiana’s critical infrastructure from four countries — China, Iran, North Korea and Russia — easily advanced through a House committee Monday.

Lawmakers also overhauled a provision blocking those foreigners from buying land near military facilities.

“We certainly do not want to give control of any of our critical infrastructure over to companies owned or controlled by citizens of bad actor states that seek to do harm to the United States,” Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport, told the public safety committee Monday. He’s the House sponsor for the Senate-born legislation.

Critical infrastructure refers to sectors crucial to a functioning society, such as roads, energy, water and communications systems.

Rep. Ethan Manning, R-Logansport (Courtesy Indiana House Republicans)

“Foreign governments with nefarious purposes like to use our own democracy and economic freedom against us but we should not allow this to the extent possible, so this is a step in the right direction,” he continued.

Indiana’s General Assembly has already approved a law banning the state and local governments from buying telecommunications equipment or services that are on a Federal Communications Commission list of security threats.

Manning called Senate Bill 477 a “follow-up” to that 2020 law.

It would use a broader “covered list” from the FCC of communications equipment or services considered an “unacceptable risk” to national security.

It would ban the state and local governments from contracting with “prohibited” entities — citizens and companies from those four countries, and any others the governor deems a threat — on “critical infrastructure” projects. Under existing law, that includes chemical, aluminum, paper, pharmaceutical and other manufacturing, plus utilities, hazardous waste storage and more.

And the bill blocks those citizens and companies from buying or leasing land next to military facilities, effective at the end of June. Lawmakers on Monday tweaked the bill on the spot to include Indiana National Guard assets.

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“We’re not necessarily identifying an existing issue, but trying to ensure there isn’t an issue in the future where somebody may come in and purchase land next to a military facility, or take over a power plant, or a highway or a dam or something,” committee chair Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, said.

They also added a process for stripping land from people or entities that violate the proposal: the attorney general would investigate the purchase and appoint a receiver, who would sell the land back off. Real estate experts said the bill would’ve otherwise interrupted the legal chain of ownership over the land.

“What that [amendment] does is it protects the chain of title [and] it puts a process on it that also satisfies due process concerns that could arise if we just say, ‘It’s prohibited,’ and we roll back,” said Elizabeth Berg, a property attorney speaking on behalf of the Indiana State Bar Association. She also said the change would shift legal burden from the seller to the buyer.

“If a prohibited person did do it it’s that person that gets in trouble,” Berg said. “And then the state has the ability to put that property back into someone else’s hands, to own it, to do something with that property to keep it on the tax rolls.”

The committee advanced the bill unanimously, 12-0. It now goes to the full Senate for potential amendments and, later, a final vote.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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