Immigration tuition bill still has uphill climb in Senate

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Although the immigrant tuition bill narrowly won approval in the Senate Education Committee Tuesday, significant changes still lie ahead.

It’s not that the bill allowing children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition hasn’t already seen revisions; for it to pass the Senate committee, Chair John Legg and State Sen. Jack Latvala, who sponsored the legislation, had to make some changes.

Dropped was language calling undocumented students “residents for tuition purposes” and the bill was reworded in favor of granting “partial tuition waivers.”

According to Kathleen McGrory, Legg said the changes were to keep undocumented students from receiving resident benefits other than in-state tuition.

Latvala did not expect that Tuesday’s committee vote — 5 to 4 — would be so close.

Democratic state Sens. Dwight Bullard, Bill Montford and Maria Sachs joined Republican Sens. John Legg and David Simmons in voting for the bill. Voting no were State Sens. Jeff Brandes, Bill Galvano, Kelli Stargel and Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.

“This body just passed tuition for military veterans,” Brandes told McGrory afterwards. “These people have gone above and beyond, have sacrificed for our country.”

“Now, we are debating giving the same reward and the same treatment to undocumented students who have not reached that same high bar,” he added.

“I oppose forcing law-abiding Florida families to subsidize the tuition of those whose families’ first act in the U.S. was breaking our immigration laws,” said Benacquisto, who is currently running for Congress, in a post-vote statement.

“SB 1400 creates incentives for illegal immigration, and I will vote no when it comes to a vote in the Senate Education Committee this morning.”

Galvano is the no vote that could spell trouble. As chair of Senate Education Appropriations, Galvano could be next to get the in-state tuition bill, but he has not yet decided if he will put it on his schedule.

Latvala’s proposal still differs from the House version, which keeps the wording “residency for tuition purposes” for undocumented students, as well as other language about college tuition.

The Senate version prevents universities and colleges from raising tuition about the pre-set amounts determined by the Florida Legislature. The House version—set to be heard on the House floor Wednesday –caps “tuition differential” at 6 percent.

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.