A Maryland state delegate said Thursday he expects volunteers to soon begin circulating a petition to force a referendum on a bill allowing in-state college tuition for many illegal immigrants.
Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican and one of the leaders in the campaign to force a public vote on the Dream Act, was still waiting Thursday for the state's attorney general and Board of Elections to approve his petition to contest the bill, which passed 10 days earlier in the General Assembly.
Petition organizers have until July 1 to collect 55,736 signatures from state voters, at least one-third of which must come before June 1. If approved, the petition would suspend the bill until its fate is decided by a November 2012 vote.
"We can't wait," Mr. Parrott said. "The issue is, we only have until the end of May. "It's a pretty aggressive schedule, and we need to get out and collect signatures."
The Dream Act, which will allow in-state tuition to many illegal immigrants who come from taxpaying families and live and attend school in the state, has run into vocal opposition from many Republicans.
Delegate Pat McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, said he plans to sue the state over its passage of the bill, which he argues violates federal law by extending benefits to illegal immigrants that aren't available to all U.S. citizens.
He said he plans to file the suit regardless of whether the state accepts the petition, but will wait until its fate is decided in July. He accused officials in the largely Democratic state Thursday of stalling the petition.
"They are stonewalling because they are scared to death," Mr. McDonough said. "They know how unpopular this law is."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.
Mary Wagner, the Board of Elections' director of voter registration and petitions, disputed the charge Thursday, saying the petition was mainly delayed because organizers from Mr. Parrott's office sent two separate versions.
She said the board submits petitions to the assistant attorney general, who has five days to review them and make recommendations. The state typically advises that organizers include either a summary or the full text of the bill.
Ms. Wagner said organizers first sent a petition April 12 that included a summary, then another on Monday that included the bill's full text, "restarting the clock" for its processing.
She said officials sent a series of final recommendations at 4 p.m. Thursday to Mr. Parrott that she said included "minor clarifications" that are unlikely to further delay the process.
Volunteers already posted a petition online this week that Mr. Parrott said he hopes will prove sufficient. It includes the full text of the bill.
While an actual referendum would likely require supporters to spend millions on advertising and lobbyists, Mr. Parrott said the petition drive itself is a low-cost, volunteer effort.
"Across the state, we're finding people are ready and willing," he said.
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