Bill To Give Immigrant Students In-State Tuition Heads To Governor’s Desk

May 2, 2014

Credit Stan Jastrzebski

The children of undocumented immigrants in Florida will soon get to attend college for the same price as their cohorts. A bill to offer instate tuition to undocumented students passed the House Friday.

Now all that’s left is for Governor Rick Scott to ink his okay – a move that’s without much question since The governor voiced his support for the measure just after the vote.

“Students that grew up in this state were not getting instate tuition like their peers that was wrong and we did the right thing. So it’s an exciting day," Scott said.

Earlier in the session the measure had appeared doomed for failure when Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stewart) removed the bill from his committee’s agenda and Senate President Don Gaetz not only declined to intervene on the proposal’s behalf, but said he’d vote against it if it reached the floor. Despite that, the senate got a chance to vote on the bill by taking up the measure from the house. Gaetz says that’s just part of how the process works.

“The senate acted without objection to say they wanted to have debate on a bill that was sent over from the House in messages. The bill was not withdrawn from the appropriations committee instead the senate did what it does from time to time – what the house does from time to time and that’s take up a message from the other chamber." Gaetz says. "And so in both cases, the processes and rules of the Senate worked and the will of the majority was respected.”

The senate passed the measure with a 26- 13 vote then sent it back to the house for a second look Friday where lawmakers made suggestions for a few more changes. Rep. John Tobia (R-Melbourne Beach) suggested an amendment that would require undocumented students to meet several benchmarks before getting approved for an in-state tuition price. Tobia says they’re patterned after  stipulations listed in another bill that would let an undocumented immigrant practice law.

“So what this amendment does is quite simply ask or force those undocumented individuals that are male and age 18, like the American Citizens and Floridians that are members, or joined the selective service, that they themselves join the selective service – sign up and be prepared to fight for their county,” Tobia says.

And Rep.  Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) proposed an amendment that would help undocumented students get drivers licenses.  The chamber passed a similar bill last session, saying for most students driving a car is a necessary part of getting an education and a job, but that measure never became law. Now Rep Jared  Moskowitz (D-Coral springs) says it makes  sense to give the proposal another chance.

"Look the last day bills go back and forth on the halls. Bills get better. It’s very early in the day, we’re going to be here very late. I think there’s plenty of time to make this bill better. Don’t make them take the bus," Moskowitz says.

But others like Rep. Daphne Campbell (D-Miami) worried changes on the last day, no matter how good the changes might be, could derail the entire measure.

“Now you bring an amendment to go back and forth  and today is the last day, vote no on this amendment and all of us push your red button and send a message to these kids who have been sitting here to two months. This is not a game. This is very serious members,” Campbell says.

Both amendments failed. The measure passed with an 84-32 vote. It heads next to the Governor for final approval.