Sen. Prez Don Gaetz still smarting from in-state tuition battle

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With more wins than losses in the 2014 legislative session, one defeat still bothers state Senate President Don Gaetz — passage of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Supported by Gov. Rick Scott and his two predecessors, the Legislature passed a bill allowing undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition rates.

The Niceville Republican was adamantly opposed to the legislation, fighting it from reaching a vote in the Senate floor.  After a two-third majority vote waiving Senate rules, the chamber forced the president to call the bill for a vote.

“It was just a very deep difference of opinion,” Gaetz told Northwest Florida Daily News staff writer Tom McLaughlin on Monday.

While his son, state Rep. Matt Gaetz, also opposed the legislation, the bill passed both the House and Senate.

“We had members of the Republican party using entitlements to buy votes,” said Matt Gaetz. “Some Republicans were trying to out-entitle the Democrats.”

The senior Gaetz claimed that if each student took advantage of the tuition break, which he sees as a “subsidy,” the cost to taxpayers would be around $15,000 each year.

“This legislation will cost $49 million a year, he added, “if not one additional illegal immigrant comes to Florida or takes advantage of college tuition in this state.”

Gaetz told the Daily News that he did listen to the emotional pleas of students who would benefit from the bill, but could not bring himself to give subsidies in the same year lawmakers provided the same in-state tuition to all veterans enrolling in Florida schools.

“I just can’t equate the services and sacrifices of veterans with the arguments, however emotional, of those here illegally,” Gaetz said.

At one point, it appeared the Senate president had successfully stopped the immigrant tuition bill, until a late-session intervention from former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez joined Scott in support of the measure.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.