Republican Governor Rick Scott supports a senate proposal allowing some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates because it addresses one of his top legislative priorities: preventing state universities from raising tuition rates above those set by the Florida legislature. The bill is immigrant friendly, which could help with his bid for reelection and improve his low approval rating among Hispanics.
The bill, known in the Senate as SB1400, doesn’t restrict the ability of colleges and universities to set tuition rates, but the added provision is being considered. Florida lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to extend in-state tuition rates to undocumented students for more than a decade, but the conversation is now gaining momentum because of Florida’s House Speaker Will Weatherford, who made immigrant tuition one of his top priorities this year, who now supports the bill.
The bill’s support, however, comes from both legislatures and schools. Both FIU and Miami-Dade College grant partial tuition waivers to students who participate in Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And schools like UF, USF, and FSU are pressing their trustees to enact policies that are similar.
Observers had been waiting to hear from the governor on this issue because he is the same candidate who made a campaign promise to bring Arizona’s controversial immigration laws to Florida in 2010, vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have helped children of undocumented immigrants apply for temporary driver’s licenses, and refused to back up his call for a $51 billion Medicaid expansion.
He took a hard-line position before, but now with his bid for reelection, he is finding himself trying to court the Hispanic vote, and Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant isn’t buying it.
“For three years, Rick Scott hasn’t been treating young undocumented immigrants like people —now, he’s treating them like political pawns,”Tant said.
Whether or not he is doing this in the interest of immigrants, the governor is going to have a tough time increasing his approval rating, and it’s going to take more than just defending the Cuban embargo and supporting immigrant-friendly legislation.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll, Charlie Crist, Scott’s main opponent, leads with a 52% approval rate from Hispanic voters. Rick Scott trails him by half, with only 26%.
The numbers not only show that Hispanics aren’t swayed by political rhetoric and promises, but also that they haven’t forgotten the governor’s promise for Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws, or how he cut back voting hours, which did disproportionally affect Hispanics and blacks, and carried on a hunt for noncitizen voters.
All in all, the governor is going to have a tough time courting the Hispanic vote because of his tough background. Support of immigrant-friendly bills will not appeal fully to Hispanics, especially since the bill hasn’t been vot)jn, nor the provision added to date. The House version of the bill, HB851, has already had its hearing, while the Senate version, SB 1400, has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. The proposal must win support of four committees before it receives a floor vote, which it hasn’t.