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Senate passes optional half-cent tax for Miami-Dade College

The Florida Senate on Monday unanimously passed a proposal to ask Miami-Dade voters whether to impose a half-cent sales tax to benefit Miami-Dade College.

The bill by Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, will give the county the option to put a sales tax referendum before the voters. A similar proposal to benefit community colleges statewide failed to win enough votes in November but was overwhelmingly approved by voters in Miami-Dade.

Rep. Juan Zapata, R-Miami, is sponsoring a similar proposal in the House.

When speaking on behalf of the bill, Villalobos told senators of the difference Miami-Dade College made in his life after his family arrived in the United States roughly 50 years ago.

"The education that Miami-Dade College provided me with was the key to my future," Villalobos said.

The proposal passed the Senate 39-0 as several dozens students and administrators from Miami-Dade College looked on from the gallery. The group made the 9-hour drive up from Miami Sunday night, and following the vote, several students hugged Villalobos outside the chamber in the capitol rotunda, while others cheered and applauded.

Several students, including Gaby Pacheco, 24, blinked back tears.

"It was definitely emotional, especially for me," said Pacheco, who graduates Saturday with a bachelor's degree in special education. "The college has helped me a lot...The opportunity of an education is something that is so valuable. You can't put a number to it, and what we saw today is people sticking up for education and people sticking up for the college."