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Lawmakers approve break for students with excess hours

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Students who take too many classes while earning baccalaureate degrees could avoid a financial penalty if they graduate within four years, under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate on Friday voted 37-0 for the measure (HB 565), sponsored by Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson.

The House earlier voted 115-0 for the bill. Since 2012, university students who take more than 132 credit hours of classes for a major that typically only needs 120 credit hours pay an excess-hour surcharge, which doubles the tuition rate.

It means the normal per-hour rate of about $200 rises to $400 for those extra credit hours.

The bill would give first-time-in-college students up to 12 extra hours, penalty free, if they graduate within four years of enrollment.

They would pay the penalty but would be reimbursed through a refund.

Analysts project it could help nearly 1,500 students avoid the surcharge annually, although it would result in a loss of $2.4 million for the universities.

Mariano and Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who sponsored the Senate version (SB 844), acknowledged it is a modest step in seeking financial relief for students who take too many classes, but they said they would try to expand its scope next year if Scott signs the bill into law.