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Immigrant tuition bill ready for House floor

The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved a proposal that would allow some undocumented immigrants (as well as the children of military personnel stationed on Florida bases) to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.

The 19-7 vote was closer than some observers expected.

Voting in favor of the measure: Republican Reps. Dennis Baxley; Marti Coley; Steve CrisafulliErik Fresen; Eddy Gonzalez; Ed Hooper; Seth McKeelMarlene O'Toole; Jimmy Patronis; and Dana Young; and Democratic Reps. Joe Gibbons; Janet Cruz; Reggie Fullwood; Mia Jones; Mark Pafford; Hazel Rogers; Darryl Rouson; Cynthia Stafford; and Alan Williams.

Voting against: Republican Reps. Ben Albritton; Richard Corcoran; Jamie Grant; Matt Hudson; Clay Ingram; Charles McBurney and Greg Steube.

The bill had changed considerably from its last committee stop.

On Thursday, Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, added language that would prevent colleges and universities from raising their tuition rates more than six percent above the rate set by the Florida Legislature. It would also eliminate the automatic tuition increase meant to account for inflation. 

Nuñez said she added the provision to make the House proposal more like the one in the Senate. That bill prohibits colleges and universities from raising tuition above the rate set by lawmakers, and already has the support of Gov. Rick Scott.

Expect the Senate version to begin moving soon.

On Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said he and Latvala were working on revisions to the proposal. For example, instead of allowing undocumented students to be considered "residents for tuition purposes," the bill would grant partial tuition waivers to undocumented students.

Explained Legg: "Giving 'resident' status could open undocumented students up to benefits like need-based financial aid, and benefits even outside the realm of education." (Legg added that there was a "finite pot" of need-based financial aid for Florida students that would otherwise be diluted.)

Legg and Latvala were also working on language that would make sure no Florida residents were displaced by undocumented students.

Still, the bill may be a hard sell to some Republican lawmakers.

Some Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday's vote was challenging.

"I struggled voting for this," said Baxley, who represents a conservative district in Central Florida. "But if you live in Florida, you should pay in-state tuition."

Baxley said he was also convinced by Nuñez's reading of Ezekiel 18:20: "The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child."

Grant, of Tampa, said he voted against the proposal over concerns it might preclude some Florida residents from being able to pay in-state tuition rates.

"I think there is a fix," Grant said. "We are all trying to get there."