Abortion, Immigrant Tuition Bills Sent To Scott

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA —  After drawing heavy debate during the spring legislative session, a measure is now on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk that would allow undocumented-immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida colleges and universities.

Rick Scott
Rick Scott

The proposal (HB 851), which Scott has promised to sign, is one of 61 bills forwarded to the governor Thursday by the Legislature.

Among the other measures is a bill (HB 1047) that would add further restrictions to Florida’s abortion laws, preventing most abortions after fetuses reach “viability.” Also, Scott received two bills (HB 989 and HB 7141) aimed at curbing human-trafficking in the state.

Another bill (HB 629) forwarded Thursday is intended to crackdown on charities that may be misusing contributions, a priority issue of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. In addition, Scott will consider a bill (HB 9) that would move up the starting date of the 2016 legislative session from March to January. Sessions typically last from early March to early May, except in redistricting years.

Scott has 15 days to sign, veto or let each bill become law without his signature.

Of the 255 bills approved by the legislature this past session, 86 have been signed by Scott and one, to allow speed limits to be increased on state highways (SB 392), has been vetoed.

The bill allowing undocumented-immigrant students to pay cheaper in-state tuition rates — potentially saving the students’ families thousands of dollars a year — was approved 26-13 in the Senate and 84-32 in the House.

While Scott is expected to keep his promise to sign the bill, the governor continues to receive requests from people and groups to veto the measure.

“In a statement in 2011 you claimed to oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants,” St. Lucie County resident Judith Beckman wrote to Scott last month. “Please stand by your word.”

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform claim the proposal will cost taxpayer more than $21.7 million in the first year.

“Illegal aliens will now receive in-state tuition rates, while many legal residents and out-of-state citizens will continue paying up to four times more in out-of-state tuition,” the anti-illegal immigration group said on its website.

A staff analysis was unable to project the fiscal impact of the measure “as it is difficult to identify the number of students who meet the criteria outlined in the bill.”

Critics have accused Scott, who pledged to bring an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida during his first campaign for governor, of an election-year turnaround. Scott has repeatedly used his efforts to hold down tuition as an issue to blast Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, a former governor.

“The Florida Legislature embraced fairness for all students today by taking action to lower the costs of higher education for every family in Florida. Students who have spent their childhood here in Florida deserve to qualify for the same in-state tuition,” Scott said in a statement after the bill was approved May 2.

The abortion measure, approved almost along straight party lines, defines viability as the stage of development when the life of a fetus is sustainable outside the womb via standard medical measures. It would require physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions to determine if fetuses are viable, and if so, abortions generally wouldn’t be allowed.

Supporters say the measure could prevent abortions around the 20th week of pregnancy, while opponents called it a setback for women’s reproductive rights. Under current law, most abortions are banned during the third trimester of pregnancy.

If Scott signs the bill, as expected, it wouldn’t affect the great majority of abortions. The state had 71,503 reported abortions in 2013, with 65,098 performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, 6,405 performed from the 13th to 24th weeks and none performed later, according to a Senate staff analysis.