MGN Online

Published: Apr 09, 2014 3:59 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is moving ever closer to passing a contentious proposal to allow qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition rates even if they are in the country illegally.
    
With concessions to win over reluctant GOP legislators, the measure scraped through another vote Wednesday. A Senate panel voted 8-5 in favor of the bill as three Republicans joined with five Democrats to keep the bill alive.
    
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was among those opposed to the legislation, telling fellow legislators that children brought to the country illegally already get free public education through high school. She said they don't deserve the additional break of paying a lower tuition rate than students from other states.
    
"No one is depriving you of an education," Detert said. "We are saying, if you are here illegally, please pay out-of-state tuition. And I don't think it's too much to ask."
    
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater and sponsor of the bill, responded by saying that children brought to Florida illegally by their parents should not punished for that action.
    
"At my age, I have the ability to look back at a lot of mistakes I've made," the 62-year-old Latvala said. "I just thank God my children are not held responsible for all the mistakes I have made."
    
The debate on in-state tuition for certain students who entered the country illegally has been perennial in Tallahassee. Similar bills have passed the House and Senate, but never in the same year.  This election year it has emerged as a top priority for some Republicans, including House Speaker Will Weatherford.
    
Gov. Rick Scott came out in favor of the Senate bill earlier this year because it would place limits on how much universities could raise tuition rates. Scott's turnabout is a vast change from the strong crackdown on illegal immigration stance he took during his first run for governor in 2010.
    
The House has already passed a version of the legislation. The Senate bill would offer the tuition break to anyone who had attended a Florida high school for three years prior to graduation. The in-state tuition rate is roughly one-quarter of the rate paid by out-of-state students.
    
A Senate budget panel, however, made some substantial changes Wednesday. One of the changes would require any student seeking in-state tuition rates to apply for citizenship to be eligible.
    
The Senate committee also altered the tuition limits so the University of Florida and Florida State University could still raise tuition rates as much as 6 percent more a year without legislative approval.
    
Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said the change was made so the Senate version was more in line with the House bill. The House measure would allow all state universities to raise tuition rates 6 percent a year without legislative approval. The current law allows the state Board of Governors to approve tuition hikes up to 15 percent a year.
    
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