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Legislature poised to allow in-state tuition for undocumented students

By Matt Dixon
Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2014 at 07:23 AM

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TALLAHASSEE — After more than a decade of failed attempts, the Legislature is on the verge of passing legislation allowing Florida students who are undocumented to compete for in-state college tuition rates.

The Senate passed the measure (HB 581) Thursday on a 26-13 vote, with supporters saying students brought here at a young age shouldn’t be burdened with higher tuition rates because of mistakes made by their parents.

“They arrive here as children, sometimes as little as a couple of months old,” said state Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando. “They are not going to say, ‘mommy, daddy I don’t want to break federal law.’ ”

Opponents have said universities and colleges already have the ability to waive in-state tuition fees, so there isn’t a need for the bill. In addition, the measure could cost universities an additional $49 million annually once fully implemented, a number that was first presented during final floor debate.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, who opposes the bill, predicted what he thought the message from state universities will be during next year’s legislative session.

“We have $49 million we have to pay, so you need to ante up Legislature,” he said.

Under the bill, students here illegally who attended a Florida high school for three years can compete for waivers offering in-state tuition. Other types of students like those in the military, seniors and graduate students are also eligible.

“I predict this will be one of the debates you remember,” said state Sen. Jack Latvala, one of the bill’s sponsors.

The portion dealing with students here illegally has dominated the conversation, but the bill has other provisions.

It eliminates the ability of public universities and colleges to raise tuition up to 15 percent without lawmakers’ approval. The University of Florida and Florida State University are carved out, and would be allowed to increase tuition up to 6 percent without legislative approval under the bill.

Latvala said the House will pass the bill Friday, the last day of the legislative session, which will send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott. He vocally supported the bill after it briefly stalled in the Senate.

“This is an exciting day for every student who dreams of getting a college education,” Scott told reporters after the vote.

Highlighting the politics that underscore the issue, Democrat Charlie Crist, Scott’s likely opponent for governor this fall, also praised the vote.

“This legislation will create incredible opportunities for some of our best and brightest students,” he said in a statement.

Matt.Dixon@naplesnews.com

352-233-0777

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