Thousands of undocumented immigrants fighting for in-state college tuition rates might have had their hopes dashed Thursday when a top state lawmaker abruptly announced his committee would not hold a vote on the controversial bill.
The surprise move by Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron — which caught Republicans in the House and governor’s office flatfooted — means the proposal (SB 1400) will be a long shot for passage during the final two weeks of the legislative session.
Negron, R-Stuart, gave a list of reasons for rejecting the bill, including the potential cost.
“If state colleges and universities can absorb the tens of millions of dollars in lost tuition, what effect will this policy have on limited financial aid funds for Florida students and parents?” Negron said in a statement. “I believe it is imprudent to commit Florida to a new statewide education law without first ascertaining the present and future fiscal impact.”
But Sen. Jack Latvala, the moderate Republican from Clearwater pushing the proposal, called Negron’s argument a “red herring.”
“Just say it like it is — you don’t like it,” Latvala said. “They’ve got money to do whatever they want to do. To say there’s not money for this is not true.”
Latvala pointed out that 20 senators had co-sponsored his bill, meaning there would be enough votes to pass it on the Senate floor.
“It’s just unfortunate to have one senator stand in the way of a majority of the Senate,” he said.
If the bill were to die, it would be a significant loss for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has made it among his top priorities this year.
It would also be a setback for Gov. Rick Scott, who strongly supports a provision preventing colleges from hiking tuition above the rate set by the legislature, and needs the support of Hispanic voters in the November election.
Both men said they would continue to fight for the bill.
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