Universities come together for students

For the first time in Florida Senate history, language proposed by state universities helped change a proposed bill. USF, with the aid of lobbyists from University of Florida and University of Central Florida, helped change the scope of a Senate bill that would charge students for going over 115 percent of their allowed credits for their academic program.

The bill was amended to push the number to 120 percent and eliminate a multitude of credits that were previously targeted by the bill. The bill, created by Sen. Lee Constantine, would have charged all students for going over the program limit. With the approved amendments, the bill will finally focus on its original intention: locating students who abuse the system.

According to the Florida Senate homepage, SB 2236 “requires students to pay out-of-state tuition rates for credit hours in excess of specified number for community-college credits & for overall credits applied to baccalaureate degree.” There was no language in the bill prior to the amendments that dealt with students who change their majors or transfer credits from high school.

With the amendments proposed by the lobbyists, high school AP credit, dual enrollment and double major credits, internship credits, credits taken by military personnel and credit hours withdrawn for medical reasons will not be included in SB 2236.

“The amendments were changed so that students who only took beyond 120 percent of their credit hours would be charged. Exceptions are made to people taking a minor or people who are in internships,” said student body President Bijal Chhadva. “These amendments were added due to the hard work of the FSA, who worked with lobbyists from UF and FSU. They lobbied Senator Constantine.”

Scott Ross, executive director of the Florida Student Association, worked to have the bill changed. He attributes most of the successful changes to the openness of Constantine.

“I would be remiss if you didn’t give praise to Senator Constantine,” Ross said. “He would never do anything to hurt students. When he took up the bill in February it was a very amicable process. We believe that the bill is now more applicable to the students needs and does not alienate students who are not trying to cheat the system.”

“Someone has to be really cheating the system to be charged for excess credit hours, thanks to the new amendments,” Chhadva said. Students who are near their credit limit need not worry; a bill similar to the one written by the senate has not been presented to the House of Representatives.

According to Chhadva, a similar bill would have to be written for the HOR in order for the Senate bill to be enacted. “The only way this legislation reaches the governor’s table is if the House of Representatives proposes a similar bill,” Chhadva said. “At this time they don’t have the same bill. We hope that the house does not pick this up.”

Regardless of whether the House of Representatives writes up the same bill, with the language added to SB 2236, students will be protected if they have excess credits for the right reasons. Ross claimed that this is a major step in getting the students’ voices heard in Tallahassee.

“This means that students voices are actually heard and legislatures care about what students say,” Ross said. “It’s a big victory for students. This was the first time specific language from students was put in a bill.”

Chhadva agrees. “Accepting the amendments and passing the bill through the Senate means that the ‘legislature is listening to what were saying,.” Chhadva said.