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Has the immigrant tuition bill found a powerful Senate ally?

A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida universities overcame its first hurdle Wednesday, winning the support of the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

But the proposal may have also overcome a more significant obstacle: finding a powerful Senate sponsor.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jack Latvala told the Herald/Times he was “considering assisting" House Speaker Will Weatherford in his efforts to pass an in-state tuition bill.

“I think's the right thing to do,” Latvala said.

He would not provide any additional details on a potential proposal. 

Lawmakers in Florida have debated extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented college students for nearly a decade.

With Weatherford's support, the House is likely to sign off on the measure this year.

HB 851 won unanimous support on the higher education panel.

“We need to not relegate our students to the sidelines of education,” said Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “We need to engage our best and brightest, and we need to afford them the opportunity to further their educational careers.”

The bill has only one committee stop left in the House: the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Miami Republican Erik Fresen.

Moving the proposal through the Senate, however, will be a challenge.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has expressed reservations about the measure.

Senate Education Chairman John Legg has, too.

“There are a lot of details that would need to be vetted,” said Legg, a Trinity Republican. “We would need to ensure that existing students are not deprived access to education dollars.”

So far, only Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, has filed a Senate bill on the subject. It has not been scheduled for a hearing.

A proposal from an influential Republican like Latvala is far more likely to appear on an agenda. 

Legg did not rule out the possibility of a tuition bill coming before his committee.

"I would have to read it," he said.

Latvala is already sponsoring a measure that would provide partial tuition waivers to veterans.