ANNAPOLIS | Maryland legislators outlined their strategy Tuesday for a petition drive to force a referendum on a bill that would allow in-state college tuition for many illegal immigrants.
Petition organizers would have to collect 55,736 signatures by June 30 to force a November 2012 statewide vote on the Dream Act, which would allow college-aged illegal immigrants from taxpaying families to receive in-state tuition rates at community colleges and four-year institutions.
The signature total is equal to 3 percent of voters in last year's gubernatorial election. All signatures must come from registered voters and one-third of them must be turned into the state Board of Elections by May 31.
Delegate Neil C. Parrott, a Washington Republican and petition drive chairman, expects organizers will meet their goal despite the tight deadline.
"I've worked with the citizens of Maryland and they do not like this bill," he said. "They do not want this bill, and they'd like to be able to vote on this bill in November of 2012."
Mr. Parrott said organizers are banking largely on volunteer support, launching a website with an online copy of the petition that they hope residents will print and distribute. He said a more organized group of "county coordinators" also will plan events and lead efforts in their home districts.
While supporters of the Dream Act have said it will provide affordable education to many young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own, critics have raised questions over its legality and financial effect on the state.
State analysts have estimated the bill could cost Maryland an additional $3.5 million by fiscal 2016.
"This isn't really about punishing children of illegal immigrants," said Delegate Justin D. Ready, Carroll Republican. "It's about the rule of law and fundamental fairness."
A federal Dream Act failed last year in Congress, and Maryland is one of 11 states to pass such legislation. Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign the bill in coming weeks.
The Maryland bill originated in the Senate and passed the chamber 27-19 before narrowly passing in the House, 74-65.
On the legislative session's final day, the chambers disagreed over and eliminated a House amendment that would have allowed exceptions for students whose families could not work or pay income tax because of emergency circumstances.
While the petition is being led largely by House Republicans, they said it has bipartisan support among residents and Democratic legislators including Sen. James Brochin and Delegate Emmett C. Burns Jr., both of Baltimore County.
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