TALLAHASSEE — One day after Gov. Rick Scott gave the proposal a huge boost, legislation that would offer in-state tuition rates to students brought illegally to the United States at a young age passed its final House committee.
“Let’s not hold these children responsible for actions their parents took — sometimes they had no control over,” state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, the bill’s sponsor, said during the committee hearing.
Some version of the bill has been filed every session for 11 years, but in many cases it never received a committee hearing. It passed the House Appropriation Committee on a 19-7 vote Thursday.
Regardless of immigration status, the legislation, HB 851, would apply to any student who attended high school in Florida for three years and applied for college within two years after graduation.
This year, the measure has a powerful ally in House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made the issue one of his top priorities.
In addition, after weeks of saying he would consider the proposal, Scott said Wednesday he supports a Senate version of the plan, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, that includes language removing universities’ ability to raise tuition with legislative approval.
“I’m appreciative of the fact that he’s concerned about the debt that our students are ending up with and that tuition has been growing too fast,” Scott, who made tuition reduction one of his top priorities, told The Associated Press.
The House version doesn’t include that language, which could be a potential hurdle for the proposal moving forward.
Weatherford has proposed reducing the amount universities can raise tuition rates, but had said he wanted to keep “differential tuition” in place.
“No matter where you stand on this issue, we can all agree that children should not be punished for the mistakes of their parents,” he said in a statement after the committee vote.
The Senate bill could still face challenges. Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has said he opposes the bill, but would allow the proposal to be heard in his chamber. The Senate version is set for its first hearing on Tuesday.
In a news release sent after Scott announced his support, the Florida Democratic Party said what’s driving his change of heart is politics.
“For three years, Rick Scott hasn’t been treating young undocumented immigrants like people — now, he’s treating them like political pawns,” Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said.
Nearly 15 percent of registered voters in Florida are Hispanic, making it a coveted group of voters. A January poll conducted by Quinnipiac University had Democrat Charlie Crist leading Scott with Hispanic voters by a 52-26 margin.