Tuition equity' bill fails in Senate
By Tim Hoover
The Denver Post
Posted: 04/06/2009 03:41:35 PM MDT
The Colorado Senate today narrowly rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants in-state tuition after five Democrats joined with Republicans to vote against it.
A disappointed Sen. Chris Romer, the Denver Democrat who sponsored the bill, said it was hard for some lawmakers to support the bill in the current tough economic times.
"You don't make these decisions overnight," Romer said, adding that he would try to bring the legislation back next year.
Controversy had followed the legislation, Senate Bill 170, from its introduction all the way to the Senate floor. The bill only made it out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week after Democrats called a meeting in the absence of one Republican member on the committee, setting off angry accusations from GOP senators that Democrats had pulled a sneaky maneuver to get the bill approved.
Today, though, Democrats delayed debate on the bill long enough to allow Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Denver, to make it back from the airport to participate in the debate.
Sen. Ted Harvey, the Republican who was absent from last week's Appropriations meeting while caring for an ailing family member, sarcastically applauded Democratic leadership for waiting for Veiga's arrival.
"I think it's great that we're getting back to the premise of senatorial courtesy," said Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch.
The bill would have allowed any student who had attended a Colorado high school for at least three years and graduated to attend public colleges and universities at the in-state tuition rate, regardless of their immigration status.
Similar bills had failed in previous years, but this year's legislation had the backing of some top Republicans, including Alex Cranberg, chairman of Aspect Energy and a top GOP donor; and Dick Monfort, co-owner of the Colorado Rockies and chairman of the University of Northern Colorado Board of Trustees.
Republicans argued that the bill would run afoul of a 1996 federal law that prohibits illegal immigrants from getting college benefits that are not available to all U.S. citizens. However, nine other states have passed laws allowing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and whether the federal law specifically prohibits that practice has not been squarely decided in court.
A challenge to a similar law in California is now pending in that state's supreme court.
Proponents of the Colorado bill said that children of illegal immigrants had no say in their coming to the United States and should not be punished by being required to pay out-of-state tuition, which is two to four times higher than the in-state rate.
Romer said a "cancer of hopelessness" exists among such students, who can't afford college.
Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said his Hispanic ancestors had come to Colorado generations ago, but he said all newcomers had the right to aspire to be something more than "ditchdiggers and dishwashers."
And in an at times angry speech, Senate President Peter Groff, a Denver Democrat and one of only two blacks in the legislature, hearkened to the civil-rights era and to the country's "dark past."
"I hope we can live with ourselves if we vote 'no' today," Groff said, accusing those who opposed the bill of not having the "courage" to do the right thing.
Sen. Joyce Foster, a Denver Democrat who is the descendant of Jewish immigrants, invoked the Holocaust and appealed to senators' compassion.
"I understand rules, and I understand laws, but sometimes we have to think with our hearts," Foster said, "and I beg you today to think with our hearts."
But Republicans said Democrats' compassion was misplaced. They said Democrats lacked a sense of fairness because foreign students who entered the country legally could not receive the in-state rate.
"By rewarding those people who come here illegally with government services, we will only beget more illegal behavior in the future," Harvey said.
A Republican amendment to give all foreign students the in-state rate failed as did another that would have given the lower rate to all students in Colorado.
Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said that granting students who are illegal immigrants in-state tuition was like saying "if their parents robbed a bank, their kids could keep the money."
Though the bill would require students who get the in-state tuition rate to sign an affidavit stating they would seek legal residency, Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, said the affidavit "is worth probably less than the paper it's printed on."
In hopes of attracting more Democratic votes, proponents added an amendment that said the bill would only become effective upon passage of the federal DREAM Act. That measure being considered in Congress would provide a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who serve in the military or attend college in the United States.
It wasn't enough. Democratic Sens. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, Jim Isgar of Hesperus, Moe Keller of Wheat Ridge, Linda Newell of Littleton and Lois Tochtrop of Thornton voted against the bill.
Carroll, after the debate, referred reporters to a statement on her website that said she could not support the bill "in a climate where the state is cutting or eliminating over $1 billion of benefits to the people and is facing a $300 million cut to higher education, which virtually ends higher education as we know it in the state of Colorado."
Isgar and Tochtrop made similar comments about cuts to colleges, while Keller declined comment on her vote.
Newell, who was elected in November by a razor-thin margin, simply said "I listened to my constituents" when asked about her vote. link
Tim Hoover: 303-954-1626 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, April 6, 2009
Colorado Lets Down Its DREAMers