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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times

As Republicans look to improve their standing with Latinos, some GOP strategists had pointed to a bright spot in the Florida Legislature, where their members were pushing a bill granting in-state college tuition to some students who are in the country illegally.

The measure had looked like it would die in a Senate committee as Florida’s legislative session wrapped up this week, despite vocal support from former Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 presidential contender. But it got a once-unlikely push from Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, whose 2010 campaign was marked by a hard line on immigration issues — most notably his support for an Arizona-style law allowing police to check whether people they arrested were in the country legally.

Scott later dropped the issue and now, locked in a margin-of-error re-election race against former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Democrat, Scott is making an aggressive bid for Latino support.

The measure now before the Legislature would cover immigrants brought to America illegally as children who had studied at Florida high schools. Currently, many of those students could not qualify for in-state tuition because their parents could not meet the state law’s requirement that they prove a Florida residency. A two-thirds vote in the Senate on Tuesday put the bill onto the calendar for Wednesday. A final Senate vote of a House-passed measure is expected Thursday.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, who sponsored the Senate version, said he expects to have the backing of as many as 25 members of the 40-member Senate.

For the Republican Party, Latvala said in a telephone interview, “It’s important that we be inclusive, as opposed to being exclusive — instead of pushing people away; we need to be pulling people in.” He described the bill as “an equity issue. … To have to pay three or four times the in-state rate just because your parents don’t happen to be citizens, I thought was wrong.”

In the final drive to get a vote, Latvala said Scott “made a lot of phone calls and pushed a lot of people on this.”

Scott’s positioning on the in-state tuition measure is already a major issue in the his re-election campaign.