Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed legislation that allows students who are undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities. The bill (HB 851), sponsored by Rep. Jeannette Nunez, R-Miami, was one of the most intensely debated during the 2014 legislative session in Tallahassee.
Scott signed the bill as he embarked on a week-long campaign swing focusing on his support for keeping higher education affordable in Florida, while criticizing Democratic opponent Charlie Crist for having supported tuition hikes when he was a Republican governor. Scott plans stops in Fort Myers, Boca Raton, Miami, Orlando and Pensacola.
The immigrant tuition bill passed the House 84-32 but was stalled in the Senate until Scott enlisted the public support of two former Republican governors, Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez, both of whom called on the Senate to take action. "Dreamer" students, dressed in orange mortar boards, were a frequent presence in the Capitol Rotunda this spring as they rallied support for the measure.
Early on in the session, Scott was careful to express his support for the bill only because it also freezes tuition at current rates. Crafty legislators tied the tuition freeze to the more controversial provision that grants residency for tuition purposes to undocumented students. Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater maneuvered the legislation to a successful floor vote, and while Senate President Don Gaetz personally opposed the bill, he did not stop it from being considered.
Only the University of Florida and Florida State University have the flexibility to impose tuition increases, and the bill lowers it from 15 percent to 6 percent at both flagship universities.