In-State Tuition Bill Soars Through Senate

By: Allison Nielsen | Posted: May 1, 2014 6:10 PM

College-aged students gathered in the Senate gallery on Thursday, donning orange graduate caps and watched along as a bill to offer in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants made a crucial step toward becoming a reality in the Florida Senate, where it was passed by a vote of 26-13.

HB 851, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to pay the same in-state tuition rates for college as other Floridians.

"We are helping prepare our young people of all walks of life for the job force for improving our economy," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, the Senate counterpart's sponsor, who called the measure "long overdue."

When closing on the bill, Latvala became emotional as he turned to Nuñez, noting the importance of her role in the bill since she is the daughter of immigrants.

"The eyes of America are on us, and I think we're setting an example," said Latvala.

Part of the debate on the bill centered around the potential price tag for universities. Sen. John Legg, R-Lutz, explained offering in-state tuition would cost Florida universities $49 million, but maintained that colleges would not seek additional funding.

Legislators in favor of the bill said the legislation would give Dreamers the chance to be Americans and ultimately, the opportunity to succeed in life.

“If you look at the U.S. Constitution, it doesn't say 'We the Citizens.' It says 'We the People,’” said Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach.

Supporters of the bill have been gathering at the Florida Capitol all week, camping out in the rotunda, waving signs and chanting for legislators to pass the bill. Dreamers could save a pretty penny with an in-state rate: it currently costs about 75 percent less than regular tuition.

Despite its passage, the legislation's journey in the Senate has been tumultuous. Although the House counterpart was easily approved, the legislation seemed dead in the Senate after Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, refused to hear the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"In-state tuition discounts should, in my view, be reserved for legal residents of Florida," Negron wrote in a statement last month. "Florida law does not prohibit students who are undocumented from accessing our state colleges and universities. Once these students favorably resolve their residency status, they could become eligible for in-state tuition."

Negron's refusal made it seem unlikely that the bill would be heard during this year's legislative session. But on Tuesday, the bill received a second chance and was put on the special order calendar for the following day.

“Very pleased to announce that the Florida Senate just voted to add HB 851 and SB 1400 to tomorrow’s Special Order calendar!” tweeted Latvala on Tuesday.

In-state tuition has been a hot topic during this year's legislative session. House Speaker Will Weatherford had been a staunch advocate of offering in-state tuition rates for Dreamers.

The bill eventually won the approval of Gov. Rick Scott, who hopped on board in support partially because the bill would prevent Florida universities from raising tuition rates above those set by the Florida Legislature.

The bill now heads back to the House for a final vote, where it's expected to be approved.

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

Comments (7)

Ron Scott
10:56AM MAY 2ND 2014
This republican will vote for Charlie crist if rick scott signs this bill into law . What is the difference between the two anyway? RICK SCOTT IS NOW A RINO . Enough is enough Vote out every person who voted for this bill! Show them in 2014 !
10:52AM MAY 3RD 2014
That was the Intent and why it was written... backdoor amnesty and backdoor support for Crist.
1:06AM MAY 2ND 2014
This is a travesty. Illegal is illegal. Putting legal citizens out of school so these illegals can attend is wrong. Supporting crime is wrong. We have laws that are being broken and instead of enforcing those laws we reward the law breakers. This is why we are coming to an end as a nation. Not if, when.
9:49PM MAY 1ST 2014
Each Dreamer has studied and learned all that the public schools could teach them and now will have the opportunity to specialize in higher education and give back to the United States of their knowledge. They pledged their Allegiance to the flag of the United States each school day and now have the "liberty and justice for all."
Karen Schoen
7:07PM MAY 1ST 2014
YOU are a disgrace to your Oath of Office. You condone theft from every hard working taxpaying Floridian.
7:06PM MAY 1ST 2014
BUT, the Republican controlled legislature says it's a good bill, so we shouldn't complain! After all, they kknow so much more than we do!
Martin Resident
6:51PM MAY 1ST 2014
This is a horrible injustice to the taxpaying citizens of the great State of Florida and their children!

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