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 certain groups.
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 said from the speaker's rostrum moments after the bill passed.
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 certain individuals. The House passed a similar bill in 2005 with yes votes from notable legislators such as then-Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Miami.
Some legislators on Friday complained the legislation didn't go far enough because it applies only to U.S. citizens and 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 certain individuals 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 Republican-controlled 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.
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