Legislation (HB 851) passed the Florida House that would give illegal-alien students partial tuition waivers enabling them to pay the same in-state tuition rates as Florida residents. The legislation passed with a sizable majority (81-33), but many House Republicans voted against the bill despite the fact that it was a top priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford.
HB 851 initially made illegal aliens eligible for in-state tuition rates but that language was removed before House passage. The bill now grants a partial tuition waiver to high school graduates who attended a Florida school for four consecutive years, irrespective of their immigration status. The waiver would reduce tuition costs by about 75 percent but the recipients would still be considered “non-residents.”
The change reportedly will prevent illegal aliens from being eligible for state-funded scholarships and other benefits. It also is intended to prevent illegal aliens from displacing Florida residents since Florida universities must have a certain balance of in-state students to out-of-state students.
House passage sends the bill to the Senate where a related measure (SB 1400) was almost defeated in its first committee of consideration. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill on a narrow 5-4 margin, with most of the panel's Republicans voting against it.
SB 1400 is now in the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where the Chairman, Sen. Bill Galvano, opposes the measure. Senate President Don Gaetz also opposes granting illegal aliens a tuition break but has not said whether his will use his power to block a bill.
Gov. Rick Scott came out in support of the Senate bill, in part, because it limits the ability of colleges and universities to raise tuition without the legislature’s approval. Limiting tuition increases was one of Scott’s his top priorities for the year. Still, the shift on in-state tuition is a major change from four years ago when Scott ran for governor on a pro-immigration enforcement platform.