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Latvala files immigrant tuition bill; says he counts 25 votes in the Senate


The dream is fading, she says. She's a high school senior with an honor-roll transcript and a mouth full of braces. Pink.

She wants to go to college. Celeste Pioquinto, 17, was born and raised in Clearwater, educated in Clearwater except when she went to Seminole Middle for its gifted program. She'll graduate from Clearwater High this spring.

But her parents are not from Clearwater and moreover not from this country. Mexico.

She can't get in-state tuition to Florida colleges and universities. Her parents don't make a ton of money. She is the eldest of four children.

The dream is fading.

Few issues before the Florida Legislature this session are likely to garner more debate as an effort to extend in-state tuition rates to the children of undocumented immigrants. The bill introduced Wednesday by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, hits at the intersection of emotion and politics, where a desire to educate Florida's growing immigrant population meets a fear of rewarding illegal entry into the country.

"These children are the children of taxpayers in Florida, who pay our sales tax, who pay our gas tax," Latvala said at a news conference Wednesday at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus. "I just think this is a disparity, a discriminatory issue that needs to go away."

State Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, voiced his support alongside Latvala on Wednesday, though the bill's House counterpart is coming from Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami. Rep. Will Weatherford of Pasco County has put his weight as House speaker behind the bill, as well.

Read more here.