TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida Gov. Rick Scott, along with former governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez, made an urgent last-minute plea for legislators to pass a tuition break to students who entered the country illegally.
The push from Scott - and two other Republican governors - comes one day after key GOP state senator Joe Negron used a procedural move to block the legislation from being heard next week. The move makes it nearly impossible for the legislation to be considered during the final two weeks of this year's legislative session.
Scott on Friday called on the Senate to take "immediate action" to keep the bill alive.
"Students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition rate at universities their peers and classmates do," Scott said in a statement. "We want our students to stay here in Florida when they go to college and when they choose a career, and that means we must make college more affordable for all those students who call Florida home."
Bush, whose own recent comments on immigration have put him at odds with some members of his own party, joined with Scott in calling on the Senate to take up the legislation.
"Punishing some children for their parents' acts by creating obstacles to a college degree isn't in their interests, or ours," Bush stated.
The debate on in-state tuition for students who entered the country illegally with their parents has been perennial in Tallahassee. This election year it has emerged as a top priority for some Republicans, including House Speaker Will Weatherford. But the proposal has needed Democratic support to survive since many other Republicans including Senate President Don Gaetz have remained opposed.
Negron, R-Stuart, and Senate budget chief, refused to allow the bill to be considered during its final committee stop in the Senate.
Negron said Thursday that a need for the in-state tuition break "has not been established" and he raised questions on its potential costs. He also said that the break should only go to students who are U.S. citizens and Florida residents. The in-state tuition rate is roughly one-quarter of the rate paid by out-of-state students.
Scott came out in favor of the Senate bill (SB 1400) earlier this year because it would also place limits on how much universities could raise tuition rates. Scott's turnabout is a vast change from 2010 when he urged a strong crackdown on illegal immigration. Scott's move comes during an election year when Hispanic voters could play a key role in deciding his re-election.
The legislation has already cleared the Florida House by an 81-33 vote. The House bill could be taken up by the Florida Senate but it would require waiving Senate rules by a supermajority vote. That may be difficult given the level of Republican opposition.
A spokeswoman for Gaetz said Scott has never contacted the Senate president about the in-state tuition bill. Katherine Betta added that Gaetz "will follow the Senate rules" which means he would not support taking any further action to help the legislation.
The Senate bill (SB 1400) would offer the tuition break to anyone who had attended a Florida high school for three years prior to graduation. The legislation would also require any student seeking the tuition break to show proof that they had applied for citizenship.