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In-State Tuition Bill Narrowly Passes Senate Committee

March 17, 2014 - 7:00pm

A bill to offer in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants squeezed through the Senate Education Committee Tuesday. The vote was 5-4.

The bill, SB 1400, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would allow DREAMers to take advantage of the same in-state tuition rates as Florida residents at colleges and universities across the state.

Latvalas bill relied heavily on support from Democrats -- all four of the no votes came from Republican senators, including Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

I oppose forcing law-abiding Florida families to subsidize the tuition of those whose families first act in the U.S. was breaking our immigration laws, Benacquisto said in a statement. SB 1400 creates incentives for illegal immigration and I will vote no when it comes to a vote in the Senate Education Committee this morning.

Not all Republican members of the committee opposed the legislation, however.

I think these young people, these students, deserve the opportunity to get an education at the same rate as someone who has grown up, like they have, in this state, said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

Gov. Rick Scott put his support behind Latvalas bill last week in part because the bill would prevent state universities from raising tuition rates above those set by the Florida Legislature.

"I'm appreciative of the fact that [Latvalas] concerned about the debt that our students are ending up with and that tuition has been growing too fast," Scott said of the proposal. "I like his bill because he's doing the right thing."

The legislation has also gathered immense support from House Speaker Will Weatherford, who has made the issue one of his top priorities for this years legislative session.

The proposal's House counterpart, HB 851, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuz, R-Miami, has followed a much easier path -- it sped through a House panel last week and is headed to the House floor.

If Tuesdays close vote is any indication, however, it appears the bill will have a much tougher time gathering support in the Senate. Latvala said he hopes the bill will at least make it to the Senate floor for an up or down vote.

Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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