Bitter Debate Marks In-State Tuition Bill

Bitter debate marks in-state tuition bill

By Kristen Wyatt
April 7, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The closing hours of a relatively staid lawmaking session threatened to break down yesterday into a bitter debate over whether illegal aliens should get in-state tuition rates if they attend high school in Maryland.

A Senate committee appeared evenly divided on the bill, which is under threat of a filibuster by Republican lawmakers if it comes to a floor debate before the session ends Monday night.

Students who support the tuition measure aimed to step up pressure yesterday on the Senate with a morning rally as lawmakers walked to the State House. Wearing light blue T-shirts that read, “We have a DREAM,” several dozen Hispanic students called on the Senate to join the House in passing the bill.

“We should be treated the same,” said Jennifer Miranda, 19, a senior at a Baltimore County high school who was born in Guatemala.

Miss Miranda said she is not a citizen and has applied to three public colleges, but cannot afford to attend next year to seek a law career unless the tuition bill is passed.

“We have to pay double or triple,” Miss Miranda said.

Sen. Andrew P. Harris, Baltimore County Republican, vowed a filibuster, and the Democratic chairman of the committee hearing the bill conceded she does not yet have the votes to pass it to the full Senate, even though her committee is majority Democratic.

“We're not moving the bill. The bill's going to die on the floor,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat.

She said it was too soon to call the bill dead, but she did not plan to allow a vote on the measure yesterday. That leaves only one day, Monday, for the bill to come to a vote.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's County Democrat, told reporters the filibuster threat could sink the bill.

Though Democrats have a big enough majority to shut down a Republican filibuster, it was not clear all Democrats were of the same mind about the tuition measure.

“We're going to have a filibuster if it comes to the floor, so I'm not sure what's going to happen with that,” Mr. Miller said.

Mrs. Conway said senators may amend the bill to require students to attend a Maryland high school for all four years to qualify, not two years as the House bill requires.
“If you've gone here all four years, you should get the in-state tuition,” Mrs. Conway said.

But Mr. Harris said amendments wouldn't prevent a filibuster. “This is bad public policy. We're going to stop it however we can,” he said.

If the bill is enacted, Maryland would join states such as California, Illinois and New York in extending in-state tuition to residents regardless of citizenship status.

A state analysis projected that the change could cost Maryland about $1.1 million a year by 2012.

Mrs. Conway said it was far from certain what would happen to the tuition bill.

“Right now, we're deadlocked,” she said.