Gov. Kristi Noem signs ‘evil foreign governments’ bill, calls on states to fill national security gap
“The Biden administration hasn't done enough to keep Americans safe," the governor said during her remarks, positioning South Dakota as an example of how states can protect American interests.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem continued her push to use South Dakota law in advancing state and national security interests on Wednesday, March 22, signing a bill that prohibits state purchasing agencies from entering into contracts with companies connected to China, Russia and a handful of other “evil foreign governments.”
“The Biden administration hasn't done enough to keep Americans safe, but we have to ensure that we’re being proactive on this national security issue,” Noem said during the signing ceremony, held at Joe Foss Field in Sioux Falls. “It's important that states exercise their rights, and that they recognize the real threats that we have and then take action to protect their people.”
The proposal, Senate Bill 189, flew threw the South Dakota Legislature this session, earning 123 votes in favor and only 2 votes against it during its stops through the committee and chamber process in the House and Senate.
The bill was one of several pieces of legislation this past session dealing with foreign ownership and investment, where Noem had mixed results: despite passing this bill and another requiring entities owning farmland to disclose foreign interests, a review board proposed by the governor went down in a lopsided Senate vote midway through the legislative session.
Senate Bill 185 would require bidders looking to enter a new state contract or renew an existing one to certify that they are not a “prohibited entity,” meaning an entity “ultimately owned or controlled by” parent companies in six countries: China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Cuba and Venezuela. The proposal also covers the governments themselves.
While state purchasing agencies are not required to do their due diligence on these certifications — they “may rely on a contractor’s certification…without conducting any further investigative research or inquiry” — any false certification could lead to the business being suspended or disbarred.
A prohibited entity “does not include a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States, or an individual foreign national,” the law reads.
“I can't think of another bill that we did this legislative session that has a bigger impact on the next generation than this one,” Noem said. “It ensures that our kids and our grandkids will continue to keep America special and protected. And it matters that we don't set up revenue streams to embolden our enemies.”
Sen. Jim Stalzer, of Sioux Falls, the prime sponsor of the bill, noted that the idea for the proposal on his end came from learning that South Dakota has spent $30,000 over the past five years on computer and networking products from companies owned by Chinese interests, namely Lenovo, a computer technology company.
“These companies, being owned by China, collect data, and any data they collect, under Chinese law, is the property of the government,” Stalzer, who served in the Air Force and has an extensive background in cybersecurity, said during his remarks.
The law codifies provisions contained in an executive order Noem signed earlier this year on the topic of contracting with countries posing “ever-present cybersecurity risks” to the state.
During her remarks, Noem also mentioned other actions within the vein of her venture into foreign policy at the state level, including a ban of TikTok on state-owned or licensed devices and a move to review the investments of the South Dakota Investment Council for connection to foreign governments opposed to American interests.
“These nations are trying to destroy us and will stop at nothing to do so,” Noem said. “And that's why it's incredibly important that we don't give them a foothold here in South Dakota.”
But missing from Noem’s web of policies protecting different segments of South Dakota’s economy from dangerous foreign interests is its crown jewel: a proposal to create a review board for farmland purchases in the state, which failed 23-11 in the Senate on Feb. 21.
“I think it was something that wasn't on [lawmaker’s] radar,” Noem said of the policy during a press conference following the ceremony. “They believed some information from our ag groups that wasn't necessarily factual in how it would work.”
Around a dozen agriculture groups in the state testified against the policy for its potential to harm the rate of commerce in the industry and the unilateral power it would have given the governor.
Though Noem is “currently working on what [she] can do as governor to ensure that China doesn't get a foothold here in South Dakota,” hinting at a potential executive order, Noem said the policy will be returning during next year’s session.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.