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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott makes tuition push; calls Senate 'extremely disappointing'



Gov. Rick Scott summoned reporters to his office late Tuesday afternoon to say it's "extremely disappointing" for students that the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants in Florida. It's a Scott priority viewed as critical to his re-election and the Republican Party's effort to mend fences with Hispanics, but is strongly opposed by some conservatives.

With Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera at his side, Scott said the bill (SB 1400) should come up for a Senate floor vote because it has 21 co-sponsors, a majority in the 40-member chamber.

"This needs to get to the floor of the Senate," Scott said. "Charlie Crist caused this problem. It is frustrating for these students. Tuition is too high ... Senators want this. It needs to get to the floor of the Senate."

But the in-state tuition bill is procedurally stuck in Appropriations, whose chairman, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, opposes the legislation, as does Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, tried to attach the in-state tuition language to other bills, along with provisions strongly backed by Scott to limit discretionary tuition hikes and to ban cost-of-living tuition increases at state schools. But each time, Latvala's effort was ruled out of order by Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who supports the bill and is chairman of Scott's re-election campaign.

A visibly aggrieved Latvala said: "It's wrong to deny the people of Florida, who are affected by this, a vote on this issue."

Asked by reporters to explain his conflicting roles, Thrasher said: "I did my job. I did my job, and the governor knows that. We've still got eight days in this session. We've got a long way to go."

Thrasher arrived at Scott's office to meet with chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth minutes after the governor denounced the Senate action. Thrasher said the tuition bill has support of at least 27 senators, or two-thirds of the membership.

That's enough to waive Senate rules and force a floor vote. If that happens, it will be over the objections of Gaetz, the presiding officer, and budget chairman Negron -- at a time when he has the greatest influence over the $75 billion budget that contains projects important to all senators.

Every legislative session has moments of drama and power plays. Thrasher was asked if the warring Senate factions on tuition is merely political theater designed to make Scott look like a hero if he breaks the logjam and the bill passes. "Nothing's being orchestrated to my knowledge," Thrasher replied.

Democrats, meanwhile, are enjoying seeing Republicans battle each other over the issue. “The Republican Party has once again shown its mean-spirited, anti-Hispanic agenda,” said Christian Ulvert, political director of the Florida Democratic Party, accusing Senate GOP leaders of siding "with their extremist Tea Party base to deny bright young children an affordable education."

[Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 7:17pm]


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