3:27pm

Tue March 5, 2013
Politics

In-State Immigrant Tuition Bill Gets Initial Approval, Final Vote Friday

A measure to give undocumented Colorado high school graduates in-state college tuition is nearing the end of its legislative journey.

The full house initially approved the bill Tuesday. It already cleared the Senate and still needs a final house vote.

KUNC's Bente Birkeland reports from the state capitol.

This year marks the seventh time Democrats have brought forward a similar tuition proposal. The bill would give illegal immigrant students who graduate from Colorado high schools in-state tuition rates. A student must have attended high school for a minimum of three years, get accepted to college, and apply for citizenship.

“We cannot continue to tell these students do your best in life and then take away their education because of unaffordable rates,” said Representative Angela Williams (D-Denver) one of the main sponsors. “We don’t want to punish a child’s desire for a better life.”

Republicans offered several amendments to the bill. All failed. Representative Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling tried to eliminate out of state tuition.

“We need an educated workforce. The issue I have is are we creating a special group discount. The answer is yes, so lets not do that. Let’s create affordable college education for everybody,” he said.

Republican Polly Lawrence from Douglas County says Senate Bill 33 [.pdf] would unjustly transfer costs to out of state students.

“Is it really fair that a legal resident of another state is being asked to fund the education for illegal immigrants here?” said Lawrence.

Republicans also worry the measure would cost state taxpayers, and tried to send the issue to a vote of the people. Democratic representative Crisanta Duran of Denver told Republicans they had an air of arrogance.

“Are you saying undocumented families don’t pay taxes, because that’s what I heard?” Duran said. “And if you believe that no wonder you’re against the entire bill.”

Despite a long debate the measure actually has more GOP support this year than ever before. Three Senate Republicans supported it, and at least two house Republicans. Representative Kevin Priola of Henderson says it falls in line with GOP principles.

“There are lives at stake and futures at stake. Human dignity is important, and we need to respect people who are trying for a better life,” said Priola.

The in-state tuition bill has long been a top legislative priority for Hispanic groups across the state, and lawmakers from both parties have warmed to the idea over time. Just a few years ago a similar bill didn’t even have enough votes to pass the Democratic controlled senate. A final vote is expected in the coming days and Governor Hickenlooper has pledged to sign the measure into law.