The 2014 legislative session may have just begun Tuesday, but a bill to offer in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants is quickly making its way through Tallahassee.
The bill, HB 851, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuz, R-Miami, passed through the Education Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday with a unanimous vote.
HB 851 provides that students who attend a Florida high school for three consecutive years and enroll in an institution of higher education within 24 months after graduation will not be required to pay out-of-state fees, as long as they submit their high school transcript as documentary evidence of attendance andgraduation.
Two brothers brought to the country as children testified at the meeting Wednesday, speaking at length about the issues they faced when trying to afford college tuition.
Nicholas Wolf, who currently attends Florida International University, told his story to the committee -- its a story of how he and his twin brother came to the United States from Columbia at the age of 5 with their mother, staying on a tourist visa.
Wolf excelled in high school and was offered a Bright Futures scholarship, but ultimately was unable to claim the scholarship because of his immigration status.
This story, Wolf said, is just one example of students who want to better themselves through higher education.
There are thousands of other students just like us, he said. We just want the same opportunities as anyone else.
The bill received only two committee referrals and has cleared both. House Speaker Will Weatherford will decide whether to send it to any more committees.
HB 851 has been making noise in the Florida House of Representatives. Weatherford honed in on the issue during his opening address on the House floor on Tuesday.
"Let's exercise our state's rights and open the door of opportunity for all of Florida's children, he said, adding there was a moral issue at the heart of the bill. "We should never punish a child for the mistake of their parents.
But things dont seem quite as bright for the bill in the Senate, where President Don Gaetz said an informal vote count shows the bill may only have 18 yes votes out of the 40 members of the Senate.
Gaetz has said repeatedly that hes not totally on board with the bill, telling Sunshine State News the issue is a point of disagreement between himself and Weatherford.
Gaetz explained the children of undocumented aliens should not be moved ahead of military families and other immigrants who play by the rules when it comes to in-state tuition, but said he and the speaker respect each others positions.
Weatherford will decide whether the bill will be sent to any more committees.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.