After a turbulent journey in both the Maryland State House and Senate, legislation allowing illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition rates passed last night, as the 428th session of the Maryland General Assembly came to a close in Annapolis.
Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has pledged to sign the bill, paving the way for students to enroll in community college as early as this fall.
“We are already required by federal law to provide education to any child resident, regardless of immigration or naturalization status. The Governor joins the voice of many other states that believe we should not place additional burdens on those students to achieve their dream of higher education,” O’Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said.
The bill will allow undocumented high school graduates to receive in-state college tuition rates providing they meet certain criteria. The research arm for the state legislature, The Department of Legislative Services, estimated it would cost Maryland taxpayers $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and up to $3.5 million in fiscal 2016 to subsidize the tuition rate undocumented students would receive. There are currently 16 community colleges in Maryland.
In order to receive the tuition discount, students would be required to attend for three years and graduate from a Maryland high school; attend a community college within the high school’s jurisdiction; and prove that taxes were paid by the student, parent or legal guardian three years before entering college and while attending college.
Legislation also requires undocumented students to complete an associate’s degree, or 60 credits, from a community college before they can qualify for in-state tuition at a four-year Maryland university; sign an affidavit stating they will apply for legal residency when they are eligible; and enroll with Selective Services, which U.S. male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required to do.
The bill made its way through both chambers Monday amidst Republican efforts to filibuster in the final hours of consideration. Senate opponents argued that recently passed House amendments changed the criteria of the bill that had been previously passed in the Senate.
An amendment sponsored by Gaithersburg-Rockville Del. Luiz Simmons (D), Dist. 17, which would have loosened requirements for some to report income taxes, became the sticking point for opponents.
Support expressed by Sen. Rob Garagiola, (D-Dist. 15) of Germantown and another Democratic senator to move the bill to conference committee where differences could be “quickly” worked out, resulted in the amendment being thrown out and ultimately paving the way for passage.
The final bill passed the Senate, 27-19 and by a much closer margin in the House, 74-65, leaving it only six votes shy of defeat.
Maryland is now on track to become the 11th state in the nation to extend in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants.
Opponents of the legislation, including Help Save Maryland, an anti-illegal immigration advocacy group, have threatened to bring the issue to referendum in 2012.