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Former Trump official weighs in on Utah lawmakers’ efforts to strengthen national security

By Kyle Dunphey - Utah News Dispatch | Feb 13, 2024

Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch

Former National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien speaks to Utah lawmakers in the Gold Room of the Utah State Capitol on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Former President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien commended Utah lawmakers on Monday for a handful of bills aimed at strengthening national security during a news conference where he railed against the dangers of Chinese influence.

The Chinese government is “relentless” in its pursuit for influence, O’Brien said, pointing to Confucius Institutes at American universities, its purchase of land near U.S. military bases, its influence on elections and its intellectual property theft.

O’Brien also said the Chinese government targets local lawmakers, “bringing state legislators over to wine and dine them.” Reporting from the Associated Press last year suggests the Chinese government found an ally among many Utah lawmakers; and in turn, some lawmakers held legislation and tried to sink resolutions that ran afoul of the Chinese government.

O’Brien said policies at the state level will help steer how lawmakers interact with foreign governments.

“They’re not looking for good relationships, they’re looking for influence so they can expand their Marxist-Leninist program around the world. So our legislators need to be a little more sophisticated in understanding that the Chinese have views and goals in these relationships that are very different than ours,” he told Utah News Dispatch.

But overall, the former national security adviser said Utah lawmakers get an “A” grade, especially with their attempt to protect land around military bases from being sold to hostile foreign governments. Some of the legislation passed last session and introduced this year “is going to be a template for states around the country.”

Speaking after O’Brien, lawmakers laid out four bills they say will help strengthen national security at the state level.

HB404 Public Entity Restrictions

Sponsored by Rep. Candace Pierucci, R-Herriman, HB404 prohibits Utah from purchasing technology or contracting with foreign entities where the products are made using slave labor.

It would also prohibit the state from purchasing any technology made by a “restricted foreign entity” which refers to Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

And the bill would prevent Utah cities from entering a sister city relationship with a province or city that has a slave labor camp. According to the bill text, the municipality is required to confirm “that there are no forced labor production facilities within the other municipality’s borders.”

The bill was made public on Thursday and has yet to be voted on or discussed by lawmakers.

HB516 State Land Purchase Amendments

Also sponsored by Pierucci, HB516 builds on legislation she sponsored last year barring certain foreign governments from owning land in Utah.

Now, under the new bill, companies owned by or headquartered in Russia, China, North Korea or Iran would not be able to purchase land in the state.

The bill has been assigned to the House Political Subdivisions Committee, but has yet to be voted on or discussed by lawmakers.

HB117 Wind Energy Facility Siting Modifications

Sponsored by Jeff Burton, R-Salem, HB117 deals specifically with wind power operations near military bases.

“What we’ve seen is companies coming in and purchasing land adjacent to a military facility and building a wind generation facility there,” Burton said, noting that it could end up blocking military airspace.

His bill would direct any company trying to build a wind facility near a military facility to have the proposal considered first by the military clearinghouse on that facility.

“We don’t want to impede business, but we also don’t want to cost the taxpayers billions because we didn’t do our homework and make sure that military airspace wasn’t impeded by the building of a 200- or 300-foot tower,” Burton said.

The bill passed the House and received a favorable recommendation from the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee. It is awaiting a vote from the entire Senate body.

HB256 Military Compatible Land Use Amendments

Sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, HB256 would require cities to work directly with military facilities to essentially create a buffer zone around a base.

“Bases like (Hill Air Force Base), or Camp Williams, one of the biggest threats to them is the amount of people that are coming in and building right along the borders of those bases.” Peterson said. “When you look at the missions that are supposed to happen at those places such as fighter jets flying, or artillery shells being shot … making sure that you have compatible land use is a very important thing.”

Under the bill, municipalities and military staff would work to create a municipal land use plan for the 5,000-foot radius around a base.

The bill passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Utah News Dispatch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news source covering government, policy and the issues most impacting the lives of Utahns.


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