TALLAHASSEE – In a dramatic shift of policy, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed a measure Friday granting discounted tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants.

The bill would grant in-state tuition rates to thousands of undocumented students, so called “Dreamers,” provided they have attended Florida public schools for at least three years prior to applying for the fee waivers.

The controversial measure was recently embraced by Gov. Rick Scott and has been a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, whose chamber passed it 84-32 on Friday.

The passage is an about-face for a governor and state government firmly in sync with tea party conservatism in recent years. Scott campaigned on passing an Arizona-style immigration law and opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in 2011. But facing a serious challenge from likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, he made his way to the House floor to congratulate lawmakers after the chamber passed the bill on an 84-32 vote.


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“I hope this signals an end to the anti-immigrant extremism that has reigned in both these chambers for over a decade,” said Rep. José Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami.

The estimated cost to the state's colleges and universities would be about $49 million. Virginia became the 20th state in the nation this week when it adopted similar legislation.

A day earlier, the Senate had reversed course and adopted HB 851, sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Nuñez. R-Miami.

But the House still had to beat back two attempts to amend the bill Friday, which could have endangered the bill on the final day of session.

One amendment, offered by Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, would have required the immigrants to register for the draft before qualifying for in-state tuition. It was defeated on a voice- vote.

A seconds amendment offered by Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, would have allowed “Dreamers” to qualify for driver’s licenses – a bill Scott vetoed last year.

“Don’t make them take the bus,” Bracy said. It, too, was shot down on a voice vote.

The governor said Thursday he would sign the bill, which also caps the amount of tuition “differential” charged by Florida State University and the University of Florida every year to 6 percent.