Gov. Rick Scott's starts "College Affordability Tour" upon signing in-state tuition. Immigration issue gets little lip service. (Photo via Ashley Lopez/WGCU)

Gov. Rick Scott’s starts “College Affordability Tour” upon signing in-state tuition. Immigration issue gets little lip service. (Photo via Ashley Lopez/WGCU)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill this week allowing the children of undocumented immigrants who have graduated from a Florida high-school to pay in-state tuition. Despite the fact that this was a hard-fought and momentous piece of immigration legislation, Scott has not been publicly celebrating this aspect of the bill.

Instead, the day he announced signing House Bill 851 he kicked-off a “College Affordability Tour.” All the public comments at his first stop on the tour in Fort Myers focused on a part of the bill that rolled back a 15 percent tuition hike put into law during the recession when Charlie Crist was governor.

When directly asked about what the bill means for the children of immigrants in Florida, Scott said: “I want students that grow up in our state to have the same chance to live the American dream that we all have for ourselves and our kids. And so, if you grew up in our state, you are going to have in state tuition just like your peers are going to have. And you know that your tuition is not going to go up every year.”

That is pretty much all Scott has continued to say about a bill that was a big priority this year for immigration groups, as well as the Hispanic Caucus of the Florida Legislature and some members of the Republican leadership.

According to The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald:

Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed legislation over the weekend that allows students who are undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities.

House Bill 851 was a priority of House Republicans, including Speaker Will Weatherford, who overcame opposition from Senate conservatives to achieve passage in the final days of the 2014 session. Yet Scott didn’t provide an opportunity for them to take a victory lap, since he chose not to hold a formal bill signing, as he has for other priorities.

…Only after tweaking Crist did Scott reference immigrant students, widely known as “dreamers.”

“Students that grew up in our state are going to get the same in-state tuition as their peers, which is what’s fair,” he said.

The Times/Herald reported that on Wednesday Scott missed an event held by the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami.

According to the Times/Herald:

[Latvala] described the event as having a pep-rally-like atmosphere, a stark contrast to the quiet manner in which Gov. Rick Scott signed the immigrant tuition bill, HB 851, over the weekend. Behind the scenes, Republican lawmakers who backed the legislation stewed that the governor blocked their opportunity to celebrate the historic legislation by choosing not to hold a public bill signing.

The governor held a campaign event nearby today in Boca Raton, where he talked up his higher education and tuition policies. But he chose not to attend the Broward College celebration, Latvala said. “I tried to get the governor to go, but they had something else that they wanted to do.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to our inquiry about why he didn’t attend the immigrant tuition celebration.

The fight for this bill was one of the most contentious in a relatively calm legislative session this year. Early on there were signs this could be the year that this bill would become law after years of failed attempts. Last minute, though, it became clear the bill was creating a rift between members of the Republican leadership.

In fact, it was unclear whether the bill would make it through its final hurdle. Former Florida governors eventually stepped in and appealed to members of the legislature to pass it. However, the drama of that bill’s final passage has all but fizzled out now that the bill has become law.