Florida House extends in-state tuition break

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 12, 2013 at 4:58 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Following a sometimes passionate debate where lawmakers spoke in Spanish and Creole, the Florida House overwhelmingly approved a bill Friday that would offer in-state tuition rates to the children of immigrants in the country without permission.

The House vote was 111-4, but the fate of the bill is unclear since similar legislation in the Senate has barely moved this session.

The legislation comes months after a federal court decision invalidated state college and university rules that require higher tuition rates to Florida-residents who are U.S. citizens but dependent on parents who are in the U.S. without legal permission.

"If you are an American citizen, you will be treated like an American citizen," House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said from the speaker's rostrum moments after the bill passed.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz could not say if the Senate would act on the bill. Katie Betta said that the Senate was "taking a look at it."

Four Republicans in the GOP-controlled House voted against the bill including Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the son of the Senate president.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, also voted against the bill, but said later that he was "wrong" to have opposed it. He said he voted against the legislation based on a "mischaracterization" he heard about the bill during debate on the measure. He said that he called up the bill sponsor and apologized.

Past efforts to pass similar bills in the last decade have failed as Florida lawmakers have debated whether or not the state should extend benefits to the children of immigrants here illegally.

The House passed a similar bill in 2005 with yes votes from notable legislators such as then-Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Miami. But the Senate refused to pass the bill. In 2012 another effort died after a tie vote in a Senate committee.

Some legislators on Friday complained the legislation didn't go far enough because it applies only to children who are born in the U.S. and are citizens. It does not include children who were brought to the U.S. when they were young but had still attended a Florida high school.

"We are leaving people out and that's wrong," said Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando.

The court ruling last year prompted state education officials to start offering in-state tuition rates to children of immigrants here without permission, so some legislators questioned why the bill was even needed.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, and the bill sponsor, pointed out, however, that the legislation created additional "pathways" to establishing residency status and that it also mandates in-state tuition rates for honorably discharged veterans.

Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, hailed the legislation, noting that just two years previously legislators in the House were debating whether to adopt immigration measures modeled after those adopted in the state of Arizona.

"This is huge, huge step forward," Artiles said.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top