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Republican proposes bill taking scholarships from college students supporting pro-Palestinian groups

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republican Senator Blaise Ingoglia has proposed a Florida House Bill that could have significant consequences for college students in the state.

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The proposed bill (HB 465), aims to push colleges to report students to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security if they are suspected of “promoting terrorist organizations.” The repercussions for such students would make them ineligible for tuition, fee waivers, and scholarships.

While the bill does not explicitly define the term “promoting,” it outlines that students allegedly promoting a “foreign terrorist organization” are ineligible for out-of-state fees and rendered ineligible for various financial aid options, including fee waivers, institutional state grants, and scholarships.

The bill designates “foreign terrorist organizations” as those “identified by the United States Department of State, engaging in or having the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity that threatens U.S. defenses, foreign relations, or economic interests.”

The list mentioned in the bill includes but is not limited to supporters of organizations like Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad.

The legislation appears to be aligned with efforts to disband pro-Palestinian groups on Florida college campuses, especially in light of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department since 1997.

READ: Florida orders state universities to disband pro-Palestinian student groups, saying it backs Hamas

The National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), established in 2001 at the University of California, Berkeley, has been cited as one of the target groups in previous statements by the Florida Gov. DeSantis administration. The loosely connected network says it has more than 200 chapters across the United States.

The organization has faced scrutiny, with allegations of fundraising for a pro-Palestinian group that had its assets frozen by the federal government due to suspicions of allegedly funding Hamas, as per an Influence Watch report.

While some universities have recently taken action against SJP, temporarily suspending or banning the group from their campuses, concerns have been raised by free speech advocacy groups.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has openly challenged similar measures in Florida, asserting that forcing colleges to punish students may violate the First Amendment.

“Any commentary on Hamas’s attack or Israel’s response is, of course, fair game for criticism and condemnation. That exchange of views is what the First Amendment protects. FIRE has long defended the free speech rights of speakers on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the organization stated.

If the bill is signed into law, it is set to take effect on July 1, 2024, raising questions and concerns about the potential impact on free speech rights and the broader implications for students involved in political activism on college campuses.

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William Clayton

William Clayton, Action News Jax

Digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax

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