Bill to grant in-state tuition for undocumented Florida students advances in state Senate

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Although it's far from being a done deal, legislation that would grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants advanced in the Florida state Senate today, with the measure being sponsored by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala getting through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-2 vote.

Latvala introduced the measure by boldly proclaiming that out of the hundreds of bills he's proposed during his tenure in the legislature over the years, none would have as profound an impact on the state of Florida than this piece of legislation.

Allowing prospective college students to pay the in-state rate at universities like University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State in Tallahassee would be dramatic. Out-of-state tuition for those universities is over $21,000 a year; in-state is around $6,000. But his bill would do more than just benefit the children of undocumented immigrants (or in some cases undocumented immigrants themselves).

It would also eliminate annual cost-of-living tuition increases and prohibit state universities from raising tuition rates up to 15 percent (as is currently the case). It would also clarify that  undocumented students are “residents for tuition purposes,” making them ineligible for state-financed scholarships. 

Senator Latvala also informed his colleagues that only 35 percent of higher-education expenses are funded through tuition, with the remaining 65 percent coming from taxes and fees generated through the general revenue budget. "All these parents, whether they're legal or not, pay taxes in Florida, so we're not breaking that tradition by allowing these children to have an in-state rate," he explained.

And he said that while some of these students who've lived nearly their entire life in Florida are subject to the higher tuition rate, citizens who move to Florida from Georgia, Alabama and any of the other 47 states can establish residency after living here just a single year to qualify for the in-state rate. "All we're trying to do is bring some equity to this process," he said.

Although public comment was somewhat limited due to time constraints in the committee, some citizens were angry that the GOP-led Legislature might agree to the proposal.

Republican James Calkins denounced the proposal, claiming that "there are millions of people who are sick and tired of bills in support of illegal immigrants." He added that though he has been a big fan the governor, "many people are angry at Rick Scott," he said, and believes approval of the law would damage get-out-the-vote efforts for the GOP this fall.

Another conservative activist named George Fuller claimed that Scott told him to his face in 2010 in Sarasota that, if elected, he would work to have the state pass a law requiring employers to use the E-Verify system to check on the legal status of all of their employees. That proposal was pushed in 2011 by Republican legislators, but fell by the wayside near the end of session after one legislator in particular, Senator J.D. Alexander, pushed for its demise. Alexander was a farmer who said E-Verify was too costly for businesses. 

Fuller was called out by Democratic state Senator Jeremy Ring after he started to verbally bash Latinos, saying they should "self-deport" and claiming they were responsible for bringing drugs across the border.

Scott does support the proposal. His office sent out a press release immediately after the Judiciary Committee's vote, saying that "on behalf of all of Florida’s families who dream of a brighter future for their kids, and all of our students who aspire to achieve success in the classroom and in the workforce, we will keep fighting to help every student in Florida afford a college education."

While Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford support the concepts of Latvala's bill, the big question is how much influence will Senate President Don Gaetz have when it's all said and done. Gaetz, the Florida Senate President, is against the measure.

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