House passes undocumented student in-state tuition bill

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The Florida House Thursday passed a bill allowing undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition for Florida colleges and universities.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, HB 851, called the Postsecondary Education Tuition and Fees, passed by an 81-33 vote.

The bill helps students brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age by their parents with post-secondary education.

“Today, the Florida House took a historic step toward putting a college degree within reach for a certain group of Florida students,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, a major promoter of the legislation. “The State of Florida invests thousands of taxpayer dollars to educate children who are here through no fault of their own. The time has come to stop penalizing them for the mistakes of their parents.”

Although there was bipartisan support, a few Democrats balked some of the changes added Wednesday, such as increasing the eligibility requirements to those students who attend Florida schools for four consecutive years. The original bill had it at three years.

“I believe that education is the most important opportunity the State government can offer its residents, and I am glad that it has been at the forefront of this legislative session,” said Nuñez. “This bill is an important step that introduces fairness and pragmatism to our state college and university system.”

Undocumented students must enroll in a post-secondary institution within 24 months after graduation, after submitting a high school transcript as proof of attendance and graduation. 

The bill also extends tuition and fee waivers for Purple Heart recipients enrolling in workforce education programs at Florida career centers.

The bill also lowers “differential tuition,” the amount universities can raise tuition without state approval, from 15 to 6 percent. The Senate version (SB 1400) eliminates the differential, which gained the support of Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate version, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Latvala, narrowly passed its first committee stop with a 5-4 vote; there are two committee stops remaining.

Senate President Don Gaetz vocally opposes the bill, but agreed to let it come to a vote on the chamber floor. 

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 HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, 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 phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.