Immigrant tuition bill inches closer to passage, but legislative hurdles remain

A bill that would allow some undocumented students to pay in-state college tuition rates won the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

But the proposal may be in trouble with Gov. Rick Scott.

Its sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said Tuesday that he plans to have the upper chamber “pass the House [version of the] bill.”

Scott has only expressed his support for the Senate version.

The main difference between the two proposals has nothing to do with undocumented students. Instead, it lies in a separate provision regarding the so-called tuition differential.

The Senate language forbids universities from raising tuition above the rate set by the Florida Legislature. The House language allows for a differential of up to 6 percent.

Latvala said he had spoken with House and Senate leaders, and decided the House plan made more sense.

“I think everyone is in agreement on it,” he said. “Maybe there are some small differences, but I believe we will work it out.”

He plans to change the Senate bill at its next stop, he said.

But Scott, who considers holding the line on tuition one of his top priorities for the session, has made his opinion clear: He likes the Senate version of the tuition bill (SB 1400) because it “keeps college affordable for Florida’s students.”

Scott has said nothing about the House version of the bill. That proposal, by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, has already passed on the floor.

When asked Tuesday if he would sign the Nuñez proposal (HB 851), Scott re-affirmed his support for the Senate version.

He added: “I’m going to work with the Senate and the House to make sure we have a bill that lowers tuition for all Floridians.”

Still, the House version may be Scott’s best shot at lowering the tuition differential this year. If neither version becomes law, the tuition differential will stay put at 15 percent.

The Senate version of the bill drew emotional public testimony Tuesday. One man from Santa Rosa County implored Republicans not to further divide the party by voting for the bill.

It passed out of the committee by a 7-2 vote.

Latvala, who was expecting the final outcome to be 5-4, said he was pleasantly surprised.

“We still have a way to go,” he said. “But I feel very good about this bill.”