Student Penalties for Hamas Support Backed

A House panel Thursday approved a bill that could financially penalize state university and college students if they take actions that back “foreign terrorist” organizations such as the Palestinian group Hamas.

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The House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Subcommittee voted 11-4 to support the bill after lengthy debate and testimony from Florida State University students.

The bill (HB 465), sponsored by Rep. John Temple, R-Wildwood, seeks to penalize any student who “promotes a foreign terrorist organization.”

For example, it calls for such students to be required to pay out-of-state tuition rates, which are higher than in-state rates.

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Also, it would prevent the students from being eligible for such things as state grants, financial aid or tuition assistance.

The bill provides a definition for foreign terrorist organizations that, in part, would apply to “Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad.” It does not define the word “promotes.”

The measure comes amid widespread campus debates and protests about the war between Israel and Hamas.

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The war started in October when Hamas attacked Israel, leading to Israel leveling large parts of Gaza.

Temple said the bill is designed to ensure safety on Florida campuses.

“This bill is to make sure that people feel safe and respected on their campus, and I can’t say that we have that right now,” he said.

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But opponents argued it would violate First Amendment rights, and they repeatedly questioned the lack of a definition of the word “promotes” in the bill.

“Just because individuals advocate for peace, it does not mean they’re pro-terrorism,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. “It does not mean they align with the positions of a terrorist organization, coincidentally or even knowingly.”

The Senate version of the bill (SB 470) has not been heard as the third week of the 60-day legislative session ends.

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