Tuition Bill Exposes Immigration Rift In Florida GOP

Gov. Rick Scott is in a tough fight with Republican state lawmakers over in-state tuition bill. (Photo via FLGov.com)

Gov. Rick Scott is in a tough fight with Republican state lawmakers over in-state tuition bill. (Photo via FLGov.com)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Momentum for a bill giving in-state tuition to undocumented students in the state has stalled due to a divide within the Florida Legislature’s Republican leadership.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers seemed poised to pass this immigration bill.

Gov. Rick Scott, who vetoed immigration legislation in the past, had announced he was supporting the in-state tuition bill ahead of his re-election fight this year.

The bill had even passed with bipartisan support in the very conservative Florida House. However, resistance is now coming out of the Florida Senate, which could be a sign the bill will not pass this year.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, announced recently he will not be taking up the in-state tuition bill in the committee he chairs, all but killing the bill a few weeks before this legislative session adjourns.

Since then, other Republicans have sprung to action—calling on Negron to change his mind.

Scott, along with two other former Republican Florida Governor’s, released a statement urging the Senate to move the bill forward.

According to The Sun-Sentinel:

Republican Govs. Rick Scott, Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez urged Senate GOP leaders to reconsider a decision made a day earlier to prevent the tuition bill from getting a vote at its final committee stop next week as time runs out on the two-month legislative session.

“We must keep and capitalize on the talent of all Florida students who want to attend our exceptional colleges and universities,” said Bush, a potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. “Punishing some children for their parents’ acts by creating obstacles to a college degree isn’t in their interests, or ours.”

The bill (SB 1400) would allow students to have in-state tuition if they had spent three of their four high-school years in Florida public schools. It would also curb certain universities’ ability to impose up to 15 percent tuition increases for all students each year.

According to the Associated Press, Scott has also been speaking to lawmakers urging them to move the bill forward.

He’s had to personally lobby top Republicans such as Senate President Don Gaetz and he’s needed to take a more forceful stance publicly than what he initially intended.

“We’ve got to give these children the same opportunity as all children,” Scott said this week. “Whatever country you are born in, whatever family or zip code, you ought to have the chance to live the dream. Part of that dream is being able to afford education.”

Scott is taking a firm stance in favor of the bill now even though four years ago he promised to pursue tough measures dealing with immigration.

However, this isn’t just a fight between powerful state lawmakers, Scott is battling an ideology that runs deep in his party.

Most Republicans—including Scott and even GOP governor-turned-Democratic candidate Charlie Crist—have shot down immigration bills in the state in the past.

This latest immigration fight is proof that not all Republicans have changed their stance on this issue, though.

The AP reports:

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, helped scuttle a similar bill when he was Senate president a decade ago. But he said he understands why there is a big push this year.

“Things have changed that much in the politics of our party and they have changed that much in the politics of our state,” Lee said.

Lee predicted there would be a “meltdown” if the final days of the session if the Senate does not vote but he remains firmly opposed.

“I think it’s pandering and I think it is fundamentally inconsistent of us to elevate certain groups because we are at a moment in history where that becomes the populist theme,” Lee said.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has been one of the GOP legislators blocking the bill. He has said that a need for the tuition break “has not been established” and that it should only go to students who are U.S. citizens and Florida residents.

He said it doesn’t matter if the issue could harm Scott’s re-election.

The bill’s sponsor in the Florida Senate, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has been attempting to amend the bill or use procedural maneuvers to keep the bill alive as the end of the Legislative session grows closer.

Democrats claim that Scott’s push for the in-state tuition bill is political positioning for his election in November. Republicans all over the country, however, are working to soften their stance on immigration in order to appeal to the growing Latino population, which was a key voting bloc in the last presidential election.

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