With election looming, Republicans rally around in-state tuition for undocumented immigrantsby John Kennedy | April 1st, 2014
Florida Senate Republicans rallied Tuesday around a proposal that would grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, risking the wrath of tea party conservatives in a bid to woo Hispanic voters to their side this election year.
The Judiciary Committee approved the measure (SB 1400) on a 7-2 vote. The House last month OK’d similar legislation with the support of Democrats and more than half the Republican caucus, with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel spearheading the change.
The Senate still looms as a wild card. But sponsor Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said after Tuesday’s vote, ”We’ve still got a ways to go. But I feel very good about this.”
While differences remain, Latvala said he will propose recasting the Senate version so it matches the House proposal. That would require that students complete four years of high school in Florida — up from a three-year standard that remains in the Senate proposal.
Other provisions of the bill eliminate an annual cost-of-living increase which currently can boost tuition even when the Legislature and colleges and universities seek to hold the line. While the Senate proposal also would erase the ability of state universities to increase tuition by as much as 15 percent annually, Latvala said he plans to go along with the House approach that rolls that potential hike back to a maximum of six percent.
The measure also would assure that undocumented students are “residents for tuition purposes,” making them ineligible for state-financed scholarships. Students could pay the in-state rate if they enroll in a Florida college or university within two years of graduating from secondary school. Average nonresident tuition is $21,434 annually, compared with the in-state average of $6,318.
While Gov. Rick Scott supports the proposal, testimony Tuesday before the Senate panel showed how divisive the proposal remains within the state GOP.
James Calkins, a Republican activist from Santa Rosa County, urged Senate Republicans to oppose the legislation, saying it would “clearly damage our get-out-the-vote effort for 2014.”
“The issue will divide the Republican Party at a time when the party needs to stay united,” Calkins said.
Similar legislation has been around since at least 2001 — promoted chiefly by Miami-Dade County Republicans and most Democrats.
But Florida’s shifting demographics have caught the attention of strategists for both parties. With a bruising governor’s race underway, the tuition bill may emerge as a GOP peace offering to Hispanics, increasingly siding with Democratic candidates.