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In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants Passes House, 81-33, as GOP Opposition Thins

| March 20, 2014

Half-way there. (Justin Valas)

Half-way there. (Justin Valas)

The House overwhelmingly approved a measure extending in-state tuition rates to some undocumented students Thursday, sending the charged legislation to the Senate, where it faces a less certain fate.

The House passed the bill (HB 851), a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, with an 81-33 vote Thursday evening. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, lost nearly half his caucus on the vote and had to rely on Democrats to help push it through. The measure allows undocumented immigrants to pay cheaper, in-state tuition rates if they attend Florida middle and high schools for at least four straight years before going to college.

Weatherford played down the fact that 33 of the 74 Republicans who voted on the bill opposed it.

“If you’d have told me six months ago that over 80 members of the Florida House would vote for a bill to give in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants, I would not have believed you…I think it was a historic victory for the children of this state that are waiting for that opportunity for that chance to have upward mobility,” he told reporters.

Debate over the measure was restrained, with only one speaker openly opposing the bill. Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, said the issue was a symptom of the larger problem of higher education being too expensive.

“We’re attacking the wrong problem,” Hill said.

Even some of the most conservative members of the House ultimately sided with Weatherford. Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Keystone Heights Republican known for his deep religious faith, said he decided to vote for the measure after agonizing over it.

“I can’t refuse (the students) their education because they’re going to be residents with us,” he said. “They are residents with us. They’ve been residents with us, and nobody is going to say they are not residents.”

Despite bipartisan support in the House, there were already signs that the bill could struggle in the Senate. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, opposes the measure, and the counterpart to the House bill (SB 1400) narrowly escaped the Senate Education Committee after most of the panel’s Republicans voted against it.

Supporters of the tuition bill, including the influential business group Florida Council of 100, quickly moved to turn up pressure on the Senate.

“The Council of 100 urges the Florida Senate to continue its thoughtful review of the topic and adopt similar provisions that enable more Florida students to affordably access a higher education in the state,” Chairman Steve Halverson said in a statement.

One thing that could boost the bill’s prospects is a component limiting tuition hikes. The House version passed Thursday evening would lower from 15 percent to 6 percent the annual tuition increases that universities can impose without legislative approval.

But the Senate version would abolish the “tuition differential” altogether, something Weatherford opposes.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Gaetz could not say when — or if — the Senate would take a final vote on the measure.

“We still have plenty of time left for the bill to make it to the floor,” he said before the House vote. “I don’t know if the bill will make it through all of its committees. I don’t know if it will make it through its committees in its current form. So it’s kind of hard to know if and when it will get to the floor.”

After the vote, Gov. Rick Scott told reporters he prefers the Senate plan, which would also do away with an annual tuition adjustment for inflation.

“I want to reduce tuition for all Floridians. I want to get rid of the 15 percent differential. I want to get rid of the inflationary increase. So I like Sen. Latvala’s bill,” said Scott, who did not address the part of the bill dealing with undocumented students.

–Brandon Larrabee, with senior writer Dara Kam and Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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7 Responses for “In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants Passes House, 81-33, as GOP Opposition Thins”

  1. JtFlagler says:

    I hope the Senate does not let this bill go on. I’m tired of benefits being provided to those too lazy or for whatever reason not becoming a citizen and paying the taxes the rest of us Americans pay to support them. I lived out of state when I went to and graduated from FSU. My family are citizens as well as I. I payed the out of state tuition as well as many other out of staters over the years. Undocumented in my mind still means illegal. It’s not right that someone illegal could receive such a benefit while a legal citizen has to pay.

  2. Tristan says:

    That is not right, I hope the senate shoots this down. If you are in our country, America, illegally and are undocumented, there is no reason you should pay the same tuition that I do. There is no reason my friend who lives legally in another state should pay more to go to a Florida college than an undocumented immigrant/alien.

  3. Davis says:

    In state, out of state. How about out of country? That probably means free ride. My bad.

  4. My Daily Rant says:

    This will just act as a magnet, I know the powers to be say they have to have gone to our schools for 4 years but I have learned not to trust Politicians.We have enough Illegals already.

  5. JG says:

    It only got those Republicans because it is an election year and the South Florida Cuban lobby is probably appeased even though it looks down on any other Latino group. Face it, these folks are okay to pick strawberries, cut ferns and harvest tomatoes at piece work wages, but God forbid they should aspire to become teachers, accountant’s or, especially, lawyers.

  6. I/M/O says:

    Donald Graham the former owner of the Washington Post and an invitee to the Bilderberg Group I now operating a Dream Act Scholarship Fund for illegal immigrant children. Receiving contributions from Bill Gates Foundation, Michael Bloomberg Foundation and the George Soros Foundation and others he has raised 25 million dollars to enroll 1,000 illegal immigrant children in Florida Universities.

    These are not children born to illegal immigrant parents but children that were brought across our borders illegally. These illegal immigrant children are being given full four year Scholarships to Florida Universities to study Medicine, Nursing, ITT Engineering and Law.

    Children who were born in this nation and are citizens are excluded from applying for any of these full ride scholarships. These Dream Act Scholarships are totally discriminatory and violate federal law as to aiding and abetting an illegal alien.

    But Graham, Gates, Bloomberg and Soros don’t care.

    Graham’s stated goal is to raise more millions so he can enroll 1,000 illegal immigrant children in your taxpayer funded universities every year.

    I guess your American citizen children will be relegated to cutting lawns, washing dishes and packing bags at Wal Mart.

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