By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
During a meeting with Hispanic members of the Florida Legislature, Gov. Rick Scott said he will “consider” a bill that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants living in Florida to qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities.
“I’ll certainly consider it,” Scott told the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus. “I think tuition is too high.”
Hispanic lawmakers, with the strong support of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, view the issue in terms of fairness, that kids who are here through no fault of their own should not be punished. Weatherford called it an “injustice” in a Times/Herald interview Tuesday, but Scott framed the issue in terms of money, saying he wants to keep the cost of tuition low for everybody.
Scott said he supports the elimination of a 15 percent tuition differential and indexing tuition to the consumer price index, both enacted by what he called “the previous administration” of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.
Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, noted that the issue has been around for 11 years in Tallahassee, and he asked Scott if he needed any more information to make up his mind. “I’ll certainly consider it,” Scott said. “I want all tuition to stop growing.”
Scott has a rocky history when it comes to the immigrant community in Florida.
Last year, he vetoed a bill that successfully made it through the Republican-led Florida House and Senate that would allow many young undocumented immigrants to apply for a temporary drivers license.
As the Times/Herald noted last June:
It would have applied to young people covered by President Barack Obama’s 2012 policy affecting noncitizens brought to the U.S. illegally as children, which suspended any deportation action against them for a two-year period.
The policy, known as DACA for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” neither confers citizenship nor a path to citizenship on the children. Technically, the Florida bill only added an “approved application for deferred status” to the forms of identification the state can accept to prove the identity of someone applying for a driver’s license.
The bill sailed through the Senate, 36-0, and the House, 115-2. Scott did not object to it during the legislative session.
The governor said in his veto message that he rejected the president’s policy because it did not have the force of law.
“Deferred action status is simply a policy of the Obama administration, absent congressional direction,” Scott wrote. “Although the Legislature may have been well-intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis.”
There was an uproar after the governor vetoed a bill that had almost unanimous support and was aimed at making the lives of undocumented young people a little easier.
Prior to that, Scott had already won the ire of Hispanic and minority groups when he launched a non-citizen voter purge in 2012.
The state’s list of suspected non-citizens was riddled with errors at the time and mostly targeted Hispanic and minority voters. Following evidence that the state was targeting actual citizens, local election officials stopped the purge.
However, ahead of Scott’s re-election this year he directed Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner to resume the voter purge. Even though state officials claimed the state’s list was more accurate this time, groups like the National Council of La Raza have continued to campaign against it.
Also present at Scott’s meeting with the Legislature’s Hispanic Caucus was Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera, who was sworn in this week.
Asked after the meeting if he supports the in-state tuition plan, Lopez-Cantera hedged.
“The legislative process will work itself out…that process has a way of being the process that it is,” he said.
When asked if “as a lawmaker did you support” in-state tuition proposals, Lopez-Cantera responded “I haven’t reviewed my voting record recently.”
Though legislation proposing some version of the in-state tuition plan has been filed 11 different times, many of those bills didn’t get committee hearings.
In 2012, activists staged a sit-in in Lopez-Cantera’s office to seek his support for that year’s proposal. At the time, Lopez-Cantera was the House Majority Leader, which caused the group – We Are Florida – to assign him some blame for the House bill gaining no momentum.
“As a member of the Hispanic Caucus we depend on him to be the voice for immigrants across Florida,” the group wrote in a statement at the time. “As House Majority Leader he has the power to move HB 81.”
In the past few years, both Republican and Democratic members of the Florida House and Senate have introduced bills that would allow some undocumented students to receive in-state tuition rates for state schools. However, they have yet to make it to the governor’s desk.