Senate Bill 1400 would grant in-state tuition at Florida’s public colleges and universities to undocumented Floridian students who attended high school in the state and applied for citizenship. In an age when bipartisan backing requires nothing short of divine intervention, the bill enjoys overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats, the governor, and two former governors. A version of the bill has already passed in Florida’s House of Representatives. Yet, it currently languishes on life support in the State Senate. Why? A couple of state Senators decided to obstruct the democratic process.
The senate version has already sailed through two committees. But, the Appropriations committee chairman, Republican Senator Joe Negron, stalled the momentum by refusing to even allow a vote on the bill. Through a simple procedural maneuver, a single senator has rendered meaningless all of his colleagues’ votes, not to mention the voices of millions of Floridians. If you ever wonder why we hold politicians in such high esteem, look no further than this type of petty behavior.
Fortunately, there is a way forward. Senate President Don Gaetz has the power to allow the full Senate to vote on the bill. Instead, he too seems willing to let SB1400 die in committee when the Senate adjourns on May 2.
Allowing the bill to disappear would end the college hopes of thousands of Florida students. Right now, undocumented students must pay out-of-state prices at Florida’s public colleges, which averages three times more than in-state tuition. This is true even for students who have grown up in the state and whose families have paid the sales taxes that fund higher education. If SB 1400 passes, 175,000 Florida high school students would have a shot at affording a college degree by paying in-state prices. Students like Camila, a sophomore at Miami Dade Honors College, have bravely spoken out in favor of the bill, despite their immigration status. Like so many young people, Camila has worked hard to achieve a college degree because she knows it’s her pathway to the American dream. But, that dream is only possible if it is affordable.
Gaetz insists that he won’t pander to Latino voters and pass a bill because it’s ‘good politics.’ Instead, he reminds us that the bill is “not limited to Hispanics. It casts a blanket of approval over non-citizens who are in this country without proper legal status from anywhere in the world, including countries which are caldrons of terrorism and anti-American violence.”
Wow. How Gaetz believes allowing students who attended high school in Florida, pay taxes in Florida, wish to become citizens and graduate college in Florida without crippling loan debt will somehow support terrorism is unclear.
It is quite clear, however, that by blocking this bill he will also block the path to college for thousands of Florida students striving for economic opportunity. If Gaetz wishes to vote his conscience, by all means, I hope he does. But he should allow his colleagues in the Senate the same courtesy. Bring SB 1400 to a vote.
Jessica Adair is Digital Strategy Manager at Young Invincibles, an organization committed to amplifying the voices of young adults, ages 18 to 34, and expanding economic opportunity for our generation. They are part of a coalition that is collecting signatures to urge Gaetz to bring SB 1400 up for a vote. Young Invincibles ensures that young adults are represented in today's most pressing societal debates through cutting-edge policy research & analysis, and innovative campaigns designed to educate, inform and mobilize our generation to change the status quo. Follow Young Invincibles on Twitter at @YI_Care.