Realtor groups played a key role in pushing for a provision in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget that would change regulations for foreign ownership of land in Wisconsin, which supporters say would bring new foreign investments to the state.

Thomas Larson, vice president of legal and public affairs of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, said in an email to The Badger Herald on Monday that Walker’s new budget provision would open the door for foreign companies to buy land in Wisconsin. He said removing the current law restricting the amount of state land foreign organizations can own hinders Wisconsin’s economy and the freedom of businesses.

“Repealing the law will hopefully remove another barrier that discourages greater investment and jobs in Wisconsin,” Larson said.

Larson said Wisconsin’s Anti-Foreign Investment in Real Estate Law, which has been in place since 1887, prevents foreign ownership of more than 640 acres of state land. He added current laws also allow foreign ownership of land to be excluded under the law if a treaty is in place.

The law also applies to U.S. companies with more than 20 percent stock ownership by foreign companies and individuals. The statute indicates the penalty for violating the policy is forfeiture of the purchased land.

Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said in a March 4 statement he does not support lifting the long-standing state law. He said changing the law could be related to the mining bill signed into law Monday that he said benefits Gogebic Mining, LLC.

Hansen added during the mining bill debate that the company had no interest in doing the mining itself and would prefer to sell the rights to someone else. He suggested the company could possibly sell its mining rights to foreign companies, such as large corporations in China.

Wisconsin citizens have a right to who know why this policy was added to the budget, who benefits from it and why it is buried in the budget rather than being debated as a separate piece of legislation, Hansen said.

Larson said the General Agreement on Trade Services, established by the World Trade Organization to facilitate international trade, overrides current state law.

He added the current state law is outdated and incompatible with the global economy.

“The law has a repelling effect on new foreign businesses looking to move to Wisconsin and create jobs here, because each such foreign business has to satisfy that the federal GATS Treaty overrides the law’s enforcement,” Larson said.

Despite Hansen’s suggestion that GTac could sell its mining rights in the state to China, Larson said he disagreed that this provision in Walker’s proposed budget is related to the GTac mining operation.

Hansen said others have suggested the removal of the regulation could be tied to Walker’s plans to visit China in April or possible plans by foreign corporations to buy farmland.

“Whatever the reason, people have a right to know the answers to yet another mystery wrapped inside the riddle that is the Republican state budget,” Hansen said.