ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates voted Friday to approve a bill allowing in-state college tuition for many illegal immigrants.
Members voted 74 to 66 in favor of the DREAM Act, which would allow in-state community-college tuition for college-aged illegal immigrants who graduated from a state school and come from tax-paying families. The Senate approved the bill last month but still has to sign off on House changes.
House members spent more than two hours Friday debating the controversial bill, which also includes requirements that eligible students live in the state for at least three years and sign an affidavit saying they will seek citizenship within 30 days of becoming eligible.
The bill narrowly passed the Democrat-controlled House under resistance from Republicans and many Democrats. Opponents have argued it will burden taxpayers, while supporters say it is only fair to provide continued education for students who in many cases had no say in entering the U.S.
"It gives them an opportunity to become productive members of our society," said Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy, Prince George's Democrat. "We want them to be taxpayers and advance science and technology."
The bill would allow eligible students to start in community college and, if they graduate, go on to pay in-state tuition at state-run, four-year universities.
Federal law requires that states give a free K-12 education to all students, regardless of immigration status, but opponents have argued the bill violates federal law by extending privileges to higher education. Eleven states currently have their own versions of the DREAM Act.
"Being an American is something of value," said Delegate Michael Smigiel, Cecil Republican. "We don't give the reward and then ask them later, some time in the future, you will do what's necessary to obtain that reward."
The House Ways and Means Committee made two amendments to the Senate-backed bill, requiring male students who receive in-state tuition to register with the Selective Service and preventing illegal immigrants from counting toward in-state student quotas at four-year schools.
During Friday's debate, the House approved an additional amendment strengthening requirements that students or their guardians provide proof of paid income tax in recent years, but added an exemption for families that were unable to work for emergency reasons.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which has until Monday night to approve the House changes or request a conference committee.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which shepherded the bill through the Senate, said Friday the chamber will likely agree to the House's terms.
The House on Friday also approved a Senate-backed bill to limit the time in which a governor can deny parole recommendations for criminals serving life sentences. The House voted 75 to 65 to accept the Senate version of the bill, which gives the governor 180 days to approve or deny parole recommendations for inmates serving sentences of life with possible parole.
If the governor fails to respond, the inmate would be released.
The House eschewed another version of the bill that would have given the governor just 90 days and applied to parole and commutation. Because the bill passed the House without amendments, it will go to the governor's desk and is expected to receive his signature.
With just three days left in the session, the House Ways and Means Committee is still considering a Senate-approved increase in the alcohol sales tax, while the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee is considering Invest Maryland — a House-approved venture capital program backed by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
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