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Weatherford must back words with action for in-state tuition bill

To be clear, I'm not asking Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford to take anyone's life.

But Weatherford's admirable support of a bill that would allow all of Florida's children to pay in-state tuition — a measure that would make it easier for the kids of undocumented immigrants to attend state colleges — reminds me of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies.

Remember The Untouchables, the 1987 Brian DePalma film about gangland Chicago in the Prohibition era? At one point, Sean Connery's character, one of the city's few honest cops, is talking to Eliot Ness, the straight-laced federal agent superbly portrayed by Kevin Costner, about bringing mob leader Al Capone to justice.

Connery, speaking in a strong Irish brogue, asks Costner, "What are you prepared to do?"

He goes on to explain that if he wants to capture Al Capone, he has to be prepared to do things the "Chicago way.''

"You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That's the 'Chicago way.' "

Again, Weatherford doesn't need to resort to violence to get the Legislature to pass the bill. But I do wonder what he is prepared to do because the challenges will be significant.

This is a proposal that failed to gain legislative approval in 2003, 2004, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

So far, Weatherford seems prepared to do a lot.

He publicly stated that he will vote yes on the version that has been filed in the state House, which requires students to be academically qualified and have attended a Florida high school to get the tuition break.

He followed that with an op-ed piece, published recently in the Tampa Bay Times, that hit all the right notes.

In his piece, Weatherford correctly noted that it's an economic issue, writing that, "We'll need the talents of all of Florida's students" to take advantage of the burgeoning technological revolution.

He also added a "moral dimension" to the issue, effectively arguing that we shouldn't punish children for the mistakes of their parents. And when you're asking students who were raised and educated in Florida to spend four times as much in tuition, that's a punishment.

"Every time I speak with these students, their words quicken and their eyes grow bright when they speak about their desire to attend college," Weatherford wrote.

Let's be clear, however. Quotes to the media and a well-written op-ed piece only constitute a first step in what will be a difficult battle. It's terrific that Weatherford has chosen to throw his considerable weight behind this issue, but the blowback will be fierce.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott spoke in favor of accepting federal dollars to help provide health care to Florida's uninsured. But Scott never backed it with an earnest lobbying effort.

I don't want Weatherford to do the same, even though any issue related to immigration can be politically dicey. Just ask Marco Rubio.

In the end, the state needs Weatherford to translate his words into action. For so many reasons, it's a bill that needs to be passed, but it won't be unless he's prepared to do whatever it takes to even the playing field for an incredibly deserving group of students.

I would call that the "Florida way."

That's all I'm saying.

Weatherford must back words with action for in-state tuition bill 01/29/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 3:05pm]
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