Florida Republicans target scholarships, grants for students supporting Hamas

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida college students who “promote” Hamas and other designated terrorist organizations could have their scholarships, grants and other benefits yanked from them under a new bill proposed Wednesday by Republican lawmakers.

The idea is the latest attempt by Florida policymakers to punish college students who are expressing support for Palestinians as the Israel-Hamas war rages on with tensions enflamed on campuses across the country. Already, Florida has attempted to disband Students for Justice in Palestine groups at two state universities while Gov. Ron DeSantis on the GOP presidential campaign trail pledges to cancel student visas for anyone sharing “common cause with Hamas.”

“Florida taxpayers should not be in the business of subsidizing the education of terrorist sympathizers who wish to do us, and others, harm,” state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill), who sponsored the Senate bill, said in a statement.

Identical legislation filed in Florida’s House and Senate would make students ineligible for several key financial benefits at state colleges and universities if they promote a “foreign terrorist organization.” In the proposed law, this would specifically include “Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad” as well as other organizations designated by the U.S. State Department to possess “capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity.” The word "promote" is not defined in the proposals.

Namely, these students would be unable to access state grants, financial aid, tuition assistance and fee waivers. They also would have to pay out-of-state tuition rates instead of the lower in-state rate.

Further, colleges and universities under the legislation would be required to report students who promote any terrorist organizations to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program of the United States Department of Homeland Security.

The bills were introduced just days after Florida lawmakers convened in Tallahassee for special session to pass several bills aimed at supporting Israel and sanctioning Iran.

Sure to be opposed by Democrats, lawmakers are set to consider the proposal during the upcoming 2024 session, which begins in January.

“Instead of addressing issues like property insurance, the Florida Legislature will be targeting students who they say are promoting terrorism,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) posted on social media. “Meanwhile actual domestic terrorists will continue to access assault weapons.”

During the special session, Eskamani was one of the few lawmakers who voted in favor of a non-binding resolution that called for “de-escalation and cease-fire in the state of Israel and occupied Palestine.”

In another attempt to support Israel, the DeSantis administration tried to deactivate Students for Justice in Palestine groups at two universities but so far has been unable to act due to lingering legal concerns. Free speech advocacy groups have questioned the constitutionality of disbanding the groups while the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations disapproved of the state “equating non-violent American students, specifically SJP members, with terrorists.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, is pushing for more action against students while campaigning as a Republican presidential nominee.

“If you are here on a student visa as a foreign national, and you’re making common cause with Hamas, I’m canceling your visa and I am sending you home,” DeSantis said at the debate last week in Miami. “No questions asked.”

The House’s bill is sponsored by state Rep. John Temple (R-Wildwood).