Immigrant tuition bill set for Senate floor

By Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
Published On: Apr 29 2014 09:27:53 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

The Senate quietly agreed Tuesday to hear a controversial measure that would allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

The proposal (HB 851) was withdrawn from its committees without objection Tuesday morning. It is now scheduled to be heard Wednesday.

"Very pleased to announce that the Florida Senate just voted to add HB 851 and SB 1400 to tomorrow's Special Order calendar!" tweeted Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who sponsored the legislation. Senate Bill 1400 is the Senate companion to the bill.

The maneuver became necessary after Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, refused to hear SB 1400 in his committee. Negron said he opposes the measure for several reasons; he is also Latvala's rival for the Senate presidency during the two-year term after the 2016 elections.

Granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who came to Florida as children has been a key priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and was recently taken up by Gov. Rick Scott after provisions to hold down tuition at state universities was added.

Under an amendment Latvala has filed to the bill, students who attend secondary school for at least three years before graduating from high school could get the far cheaper in-state tuition rates, regardless of their immigration status.

The measure would also strip most universities of their ability to ask the Florida Board of Governors to increase tuition 15 percent a year without legislative approval, an issue known as differential tuition. The University of Florida and Florida State University could still request the hikes, but the increases would be capped at 6 percent a year and could only be approved if the universities met certain standards in the bill.

Latvala said in the days leading up to Tuesday's action that he would have the votes needed to bring the bill to the floor. Even opponents of the measure conceded that it was likely to be heard.

"This session will not end peacefully if that bill does not get a vote on the Senate floor," Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said last week. "I don?t think anyone's operating under any alternative illusion. So they can posture and dream in Technicolor all they want, but this issue will come up on the Senate floor or this session will melt down."

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