Summarizing his bill that would provide reduced in-state college tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students who have attended Florida high schools, Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala said today that looking back at some of the things he's done in his life, "I just thank God my children are not held responsible for all the mistakes I made."
His point was one that advocates for immigration reform have made over the years when it comes to the so-called "Dreamers" - that though these young people who were not born in the U.S. and thus are in violation of our immigration laws, came at the behest of their parents , and thus should not be penalized for violating the law by coming over to America without proper documentation.
Latvala's bill passed through the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on an 8-5 vote, and now grows closer into becoming state law. Both Governor Rick Scott and House Speaker Will Weatherford support the legislation, though Senate President Don Gaetz does not.
The measure includes an amendment introduced by Lutz-based GOP Senator John Legg that would require students seeking the tuition waiver to "submit to the institution of higher education a notarized affidavit stating that the student has filed an application to legalize his or her federal immigration status or will file an application as soon as he or she is eligible to do so," something that has been implemented in California.
Among the Republican critics of the proposal were Sarasota area Senator Nancy Detert, who somewhat coldly said that "everyone has a sob story," before recounting experiences that her grandchildren and others in her district have had to endure in finding a way to go to a Florida state college. She said that she was fine with providing such students a "free, public school taxpayer education" from Kindergarten through high school, but after that, "you're on your own," saying that "no one is depriving you of an education."
But Detert was rebuked moments later by Naples GOP Senator Garrett Richter, who said the students that the legislation was geared towards
"go to classes right now with our children - they're sitting next to your
Nassea County Senator Aaron Bean introduced statistics showing that Florida state colleges and universities (to which the legislation would apply to) already offer up loads of breaks on tuition rates, so why does there need to be a state policy? Specifically he said that in the 2012-2013 school year, over $205 million in fee waivers and exemptions were utilized. "Isn't it better to support the local control to meet the individual unique mission that each of our 12 colleges and universities have?" he asked. He offered a prediction that state university officials will be back before the Legislature next year to claim a need for financial assistance to cope with the new regulations.
Amongst Republicans and in particular those of the Tea Party variety the bill is still extremely controversial. Santa Rosa County GOP activist James Calkins labeled the legislation "toxic"and "deceitful" and claimed Republicans were simply pandering to illegal immigrants in the state.
After the vote the Florida Democratic Party took notice of the split amongst Republicans.
“The fact that providing Florida’s undocumented students access to an affordable education remains controversial with Florida Senate Republicans shows just how out of touch their party is,” said Florida Democratic Party political director Christian Ulvert. "What Floridians saw today was a party torn between election-year pandering and their anti-Hispanic agenda. Despite weakening the bill to provide in-state tuition to Florida’s undocumented students, 5 Senate Republicans remained obstinate in their opposition to helping young Floridians realize their dreams. This debate has gone on long enough — it’s time for Florida Republicans to do what is right for Florida’s Hispanic Community.”