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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate votes 25-12 for bill to allow non-citizens to practice law



The Senate Friday passed and sent to the House a bill that would allow a noncitizen to practice law in Florida for the first time, subject to the approval of the Florida Supreme Court.

The 25-12 vote was prompted by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in the case of Jose Godinez-Samperio, 27, of Largo, a native of Mexico who came to Florida at age 9 and has tried for more than two years to gain Bar admission after graduating with honors from FSU's law school. Justices said they were powerless to act unless directed by the Legislature because of a federal law.

Every South Florida senator voted for the bill, and the only no votes from Tampa Bay were cast by Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and John Legg of Port Richey. The House must follow the Senate's lead and Gov. Rick Scott would have to sign the bill for Godinez-Samperio to open a law practice.

The bill (HB 755) was amended to apply to as few noncitizens as possible. An amendment by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, limits the scope of the provision to an "unauthorized immigrant" who came to Florida as a minor, has lived here for at least 10 years and has met Bar admission requirements.

All 14 Democrats in the Senate were joined by 11 Republicans in passing the bill. Twelve Republicans voted no and three Republicans did not vote, including Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was out of the chamber at the time.

Note: Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, were recorded as not voting on the bill. Both senators voted no on Thursday on the initial amendment to allow the immigrant to obtain a law license.

[Last modified: Saturday, April 26, 2014 8:04am]


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