MIAMI -

State lawmakers could approve a bill this session allowing qualified Florida students to pay in-state college tuition even if they are in the country illegally.

The tuition debate is a perennial one in Tallahassee. Similar bills passed the House and Senate but never in the same year. This year the measure appears to be gaining broader support.

House Speaker Bill Weatherford supports the bill. At least 15 states have passed such laws, with another seven considering them. The trend reflects immigrant advocates' increasing focus on state legislatures as Congress fails to act on immigration.

Florida's proposals would cover most youth who attended at least three years of high school in the state and apply for college within two years of graduation. It also would provide in-state tuition to veterans.

Immigrants who are under the age of 31, entered the United States before age 16; have lived continuously in the country for at least five years; have not been convicted of a felony, a “significant” misdemeanor, or three other misdemeanors; and are currently in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military. Immigrants who meet these criteria are commonly referred to as “DREAMers” because they comprise most (though not all) of the individuals who meet the general requirements of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.