Pressed three times by Hispanic lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott stopped short of supporting their No. 1 priority Wednesday: in-state tuition for undocumented children who attend Florida 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."
The third lawmaker who raised the issue was Rep. Victor Torres, D-Orlando. "These are children who are suffering through no fault of their own," Torres said.
An in-state tuition break for children of undocumented immigrants passed the House last year, 111-4, but the Senate never brought it up for a vote. The proposal discussed Wednesday would be much broader by giving in-state tuition to children, brought here by their immigrant parents, who are not here legally.
"It's important to distinguish between children and people who are just breaking the law by coming to this country illegally," Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, told Scott.
Scott's willingness to consider supporting it could antagonize conservatives, but he needs to rebuild support from Hispanic voters to secure re-election. He antagonized some of them last year by vetoing an immigrant driver's license bill. Scott recently appointed the state's first Hispanic lieutenant governor, former Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami.
Lopez-Cantera was asked to state what his position was on in-state tuition when he was in the House, including majority leader his final two years. His reply: "I haven't reviewed my voting record recently." During the 2012 session, he declined to meet with a delegation of immigrant families who camped outside his office, seeking his support to have the bill heard in the House; it wasn't.