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Higher ed DEI limits and expanded E-Verify for employers get approval in Florida

Landis Hall on the campus of Florida State University
Alejandro Santiago
WFSU Public Media
Landis Hall on the campus of Florida State University

Florida’s higher education landscape will be under even more scrutiny as measures further limit discussions on aspects of race, culture, and history get through the legislature. Yet lawmakers stopped short of denying undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates, which Gov. Ron DeSantis had pushed them to do.

To be certain, the state’s higher education structure is significantly changed. There will be more frequent reviews of tenure, the total revamp of the New College of Florida into a more ideologically conservative institution, and less say by faculty on hiring decisions. But broad opposition to a complete ban on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion spending led lawmakers to water down that language, somewhat. Now, only certain kinds of DEI spending are banned says bill sponsor and Republican Senator Erin Grall.

"The bill doesn’t prohibit speech, the concepts the bill discusses can be talked about as part of a larger conversation. The bill refers to entities that advocate for a certain type of DEI and institutionalize a particular worldview and use it to suppress anyone with a dissenting worldview.”

Still, the damage has already been done, says House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskoll.

"The extremist, partisan assault on higher education puts our colleges and universities at risk of going from world-class, to class clown," Driskoll said.

The measure builds on last year's "STOP WOKE ACT" which was blocked from being enforced in the state's public universities by a federal court in November.

"This legislation is riddled with constitutional defects. It denies academic freedom and funding to anyone not in lockstep with Florida Republicans’ preferred positions. No ideas are so repugnant that the government may ban students or professors at our public institutions of higher education from discussing them as they see fit. Like the Stop WOKE Act, SB 266 cannot be squared with the First Amendment," said Joe Cohn, Legislative and Policy Director for the free speech rights group Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Florida lawmakers have also advanced a measure addressing immigration. DeSantis made national headlines by having the state pay to send undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vinyard. This year, the state has put millions more into the migrant flight program, and will soon require private employers with a minimum of 25 employees to use E-Verify to check their workers' immigration status.

“The bottom line is that the federal government needs to fix it, and I don’t know why they don’t," said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo in a response to reporter questions about the immigration bill.

"We talk about it and talk about it and talk about it, but they don’t do anything about it. If they would fix it, we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Yet the same measure does not include a DeSantis-backed plan to strip in-state tuition from undocumented immigrants. It does, however, require hospitals to ask whether patients are in the county legally. The facilities would have to report that information to the state.

Updated: May 3, 2023 at 5:44 PM EDT
Updated to include the
statement from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, FIRE.
Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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