TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Opponents of a measure that would allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates ripped into the bill on Wednesday as the legislation was poised for passage the Senate.

The chamber is expected to pass the contentious bill (HB 851) whenever a vote is held, likely on Thursday. More than half of the Senate signed on to a counterpart to the proposal (SB 1400), and, in what was viewed as a test vote, the chamber last week passed a measure that would let undocumented apply to practice law in Florida.

Lawmakers spent almost 45 minutes discussing the in-state tuition measure on Wednesday, with supporters saying the bill would help students who were brought to the state when they were too young to protest. Proponents also highlighted provisions of the bill that would scale back the “differential tuition” law allowing universities to request annual tuition hikes of up to 15 percent from the Florida Board of Governors without legislative approval.

Instead, the new bill would slice that rate to 6 percent and allow only the University of Florida and Florida State University to ask for the increases.

The proposal “reduces the tuition to Florida public higher education for everyone,” said Senate bill sponsor Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. “Not just one class or another, but this bill reduces it for everyone.”

But opponents attacked the bill on both emotional and financial grounds. Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican locked in a battle with Latvala for a future Senate presidency, underscored the fact that college and university officials have said they’re unable to estimate how much the measure might cost in terms of lost revenue.

“You can’t tell us how many students it would apply to, because it hasn’t been provided to us, and you can’t tell us how much it would cost,” Negron said.

Latvala said the schools have promised not to ask for more funding in the future because of the tuition waivers that would be granted to undocumented students, who would have to attend three years of secondary school in Florida to be eligible for the cheaper, in-state tuition.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, pointed out that a similar measure approved to help veterans was meant to make the state more welcoming for members of the Armed Forces.

“Are we not sending that same message, that we’re trying to encourage illegal immigrants to come to Florida and move here and live here and go to our colleges?” she said.

The bill is a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and has been strongly supported in recent weeks by Gov. Rick Scott. If approved by the Senate, it would still have to pass the House again because of changes that the upper chamber made to the bill.

This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.


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