Md. lawmakers set to debate in-state tuition bill
Hundreds of students gathered outside the State House in Annapolis this week to try to build support for one of the most high-profile immigration bills of the legislative session. Lawmakers on Wednesday morning are set to debate a measure that would give illegal immigrants a path to paying in-state tuition at Maryland's four-year colleges and universities.
Maryland would join 10 other states, including California, New York and Texas, in giving these students tuition breaks.
A similar bill passed Maryland's General Assembly in 2003 but was vetoed by former Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Since then, the national debate over illegal immigration has intensified and the competition for slots at some of Maryland's universities has increased.
In the face of opposition, advocates have had to accept a scaled-back version of the original proposal. Maryland high school graduates, regardless of immigration status, would initially be eligible for in-county tuition breaks at community colleges. Those who receive an associate's degree could then transfer to one of the state's four-year institutions and pay the in-state rate - an average savings of about $10,000 a year.
In the Senate, where debate begins Wednesday, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's), said he expects the measure will have the backing of a majority of legislators. But he is not certain there are 29 votes needed to cut off debate if opponents attempt to filibuster.
"What are we afraid of?" Ramirez said Tuesday. "We're giving people an opportunity to go to school."
In a preview of the debate, Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's) said Republican legislators object to the anticipated increase in state funding that would accompany an expansion in community college enrollment. A legislative analysis projects an increase in state aid of about $780,000 in fiscal 2014.
Pipkin said he has also been inundated with emotional phone calls and e-mail messages from constituents frustrated by the idea that illegal immigrants could "bump legal residents out of the in-state pool." "There's a fairness question," he said.
Ann E. Marimow
| March 8, 2011; 12:35 PM ET
Categories: Ann Marimow, General Assembly
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