TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed children of illegal immigrants to get temporary Florida driver's licenses, a decision that may bolster his standing among immigration hard-liners but could hurt him among Hispanic voters.
The vetoed measure, informally known to supporters as the "Dream Act Driver License" law, passed the Legislature by a nearly unanimous vote. 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. Technically, the Florida bill only added an approved application for deferred status to the forms of ID the state can accept to prove a driver's identity when applying for a license.
The bill sailed through the Senate, 36-0, and the House, 115-2. Scott never publicly raised objections about it during the recent legislative session.
The governor said in a veto message that he rejected the president's policy because it didn't 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."
Scott noted that state law already allows noncitizens who have federal work permits to get temporary Florida driver's licenses.
"Simply unconscionable," said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "It's a political anti-Hispanic move. He missed an opportunity."
Soto predicted rallies in the days ahead by Hispanics angered by Scott's veto. He said the lopsided votes in favor of the bill shows the proposal was reasonable.
Scott, a Republican facing re-election in 2014, favored an Arizona-style anti-immigration law during a highly contentious GOP primary against former Attorney General Bill McCollum in 2010, but softened his stand in the general election.
Scott has steadily moved toward the political center in recent months, but he antagonized tea party activists when he endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid in February under another Obama initiative, the Affordable Care Act.
"Rick Scott continues to alienate and discriminate against thousands of undocumented immigrants," said Florida Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp. "Instead of joining the Legislature's near-unanimous consensus … (he) imposed his rigid ideology on Floridians — to the detriment of the young immigrants who are Florida's future."
One of the many noncitizens with a temporary driver's license in Florida is Jose Godinez-Samperio, 26, of Tampa, who has a law degree and has petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to be licensed to practice law.
His lawyer, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, noted that Florida law expressly states that lack of citizenship cannot be a barrier to practicing any profession regulated by the state, such as medicine.
"Somebody in Florida who is not yet a citizen can get a doctor's license but not a driver's license," D'Alemberte said. "How absurd can we be?"
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.