Senate OKs immigrant tuition bill

Illegal residents who qualify could pay in-state rates

DENVER – Silence was golden Monday morning for supporters of a bill that offers discounted college tuition to young people who entered the country illegally with their parents.

Sponsors of Senate Bill 15 showed up ready to fight for their bill on the long-anticipated final vote in the Senate. But it passed in a matter of seconds, with no debate, on a 20-14 vote.

The tally fell along party lines, with Democrats in favor.

The sponsor, Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, said he was surprised at the total lack of debate in the Senate.

“We came ready to defend the bill and talk about its benefits,” Johnston said. “My sense was people don’t think there were good arguments left to make against this bill.”

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, voted against the bill. She said the state should wait for the federal government to reform the immigration system. Otherwise, students will not be able to work legally once they graduate from college, she said.

“I have been a consistent and firm supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and this bill doesn’t do that. I think it sets up a false promise for people,” she said.

Republicans said they did not plan in advance to not debate the bill. It has sat on the Senate calendar for nearly two months as supporters built their coalition. The Fort Lewis College trustees, as well as the governing boards of most colleges, have voiced their support for SB 15.

The bill would allow colleges to offer in-state tuition rates to high school graduates, even if they are in the country illegally. Students must have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years to qualify.

However, illegal immigrant students would not get the stipend of about $1,800 that the state gives to every full-time, in-state student.

The bill’s fate now rests with Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. McNulty will assign the bill to a committee sometime after clerks send it from the Senate to the House.

A similar bill failed in the House Education Committee last year, but since then, the panel’s chairman – Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs – has publicly voiced his support for the bill. Supporters are hoping that if Democrats stick together in favor of the bill, Massey will give them the one Republican vote they need, both in committee and on the House floor.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story