Bill to provide in-state tuition for undocumented students debated

Bill has failed for a decade

It’s a bill that’s been tried but has failed for over a decade in Florida. But it’s looking more likely that a proposal to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students will pass in 2014.

Florida would become the 18th state including California and Texas to do this.

The bill (SB1400) is entering a crucial phase on its path to becoming state law. The Senate Appropriations Committee is the next group that needs to vote on the bill before it can move on to the full Senate. If that happens, it appears the bill will pass. A similar measure (HB) 851 has already passed the House.

Gov. Rick Scott has signaled he would sign the bill, but has raised concerns about a provision of the Senate version that requires undocumented students to sign affidavits saying that they have applied for or would apply for legalization.

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Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told reporters that supporters of the legislation were working to address Scott's concerns.

"We're fine-tuning some of the language with the governor, with the House, but we will get there," he said.

The measure would also do away with the state's differential tuition law for every school except the University of Florida and Florida State University. The differential tuition law allows universities to increase tuition up to 15 percent a year.

Under the bill, the University of Florida and Florida State would be able to ask the Board of Governors for a 6 percent increase each year, instead of the current 15 percent hike.

The change in direction for this controversial bill is coming during an election year where both gubernatorial candidates are courting Hispanic voters.

The measure is viewed as an olive branch to Hispanic voters whom Scott alienated in his first bid for governor when he campaigned on bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida.

Scott further angered Hispanics when he vetoed a nearly universally-supported measure that would have let children of undocumented immigrants get temporary driver's licenses.

Democratic challenger Charlie Crist supports its passage.

Floridians for Immigration Enforcement say if the bill is passed it will increase competition for and may squeeze out an equally worthy American student, who is a legal citizen.

“It's just going to make it more difficult for Florida families to get their legal students into schools,” said David Caulkett of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement.

Caulkett accuses those who now support the measure of pandering for votes in the upcoming election.

“This is very clearly a demographic pandering to a minority,” Caulkett said.

Right now, two South Florida colleges, Miami Dade College and Florida International University, offer in-state tuition to undocumented students.

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