By MAGGIE CLARK
ANNAPOLIS (April 6, 2011) Providing in-state tuition for Maryland's undocumented students could become more difficult if the House of Delegates approves an amended bill put forth in the Ways and Means Committee Tuesday.
If it passes the House, the bill has to go back to the Senate where it will pass or fail with the new amendments.
One amendment to the Senate bill requires undocumented students receiving in-state tuition to register for selective service, if eligible. The other requires that four-year colleges and universities not count undocumented students as part of their in-state population, so they do not take spaces reserved for legal residents.
With less than a week left in the 2011 legislative session, time could be running out for in-state tuition.
Advocates are still "cautiously optimistic" about the bill's passage. Helen Melton, advocacy specialist at CASA de Maryland, thinks the House amendments tighten the bill and address the concerns of lawmakers who might be on the fence.
"It's going to be a little harder for an undocumented student to get in-state tuition (with the committee amendments), but you're still able to get it. It's do-able," Melton said.
The bill passed the Senate 27-20 in March, and allows any student to pay in-state or in-county tuition as long as they graduated from a Maryland high school and attended that school for at least three years. They or their parents also need to prove that they had Maryland income taxes deducted from their paychecks for three years before high school graduation.
The Senate additionally required that undocumented students first attend community college, and then transfer to a university to finish their four-year degree.
Delegate Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick, a Ways and Means Committee member who opposes the bill, said the committee amendments make the bill better, but the bill still doesn't give the "return on investment" that Maryland expects from its students.
"You want me to invest my tax dollars, but you're not guaranteeing me after four years, that this person is going to be able to work here in this state," Afzali said.
CASA de Maryland's Melton argues that there are many circumstances that would change an undocumented student's status and allow them to work, like getting sponsored by an employer, possibly getting temporary protective status after a natural disaster or conflict in their home country, or marrying a citizen.
"There's also the unknown of comprehensive immigration reform. A lot of people are not as optimistic about it, but it can happen. It happened with Reagan and it can happen with Obama or another president in the future. Your situation can change and you never know what can happen," Melton said.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George's, the bill's Senate sponsor, thinks the additional House amendments don't substantially change the benefits of the bill, but he acknowledges that no one in his chamber will be happy to see it again.
"We spent about five or six hours debating the bill about a month ago and we were pretty exhausted," Pinsky said. "I don't think anyone's looking forward to debating it again. But I think people who voted for it will continue to support it. I expect we can hold on to those votes."
The full House of Delegates is expected to begin debate on the bill Thursday. Final passage in the House could come as early as Friday, and the Senate would consider the bill immediately afterwards.
"The major concern is time, the time we have left," said Sen. Victor Ramirez, D-Prince George's. "I'm optimistic. We have the votes. We just need to get the bill back ... It's not over until midnight rings, but I hope that we can do it sooner than that."