- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2004

When it comes to the Maryland General Assembly, bad ideas never seem to go away — they simply take a hiatus until they’re revived. That’s precisely what’s happening with this year’s incarnation of a bill being pushed by the Democratic leadership that would grant substantially lower in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrants. The House of Delegates voted 88-53 last week to pass H.B. 1171, an in-state tuition bill, with 85 Democrats and three Republicans voting in favor and 40 Republicans and 13 Democrats voting against. The bill is a bad idea for myriad reasons.

Right now, students who qualify for in-state tuition pay $6,759 to attend the University of Maryland at College Park, while out-of-state students pay almost $17,433 — a difference of almost $11,000 per year. With its vote for H.B. 1171, the House has decided that, for purposes of attending state schools, illegal immigrants should be treated the same as American citizens and non-citizens who are lawfully in the state. By doing this, the bill jeopardizes tuition breaks and other opportunities for legal residents of Maryland to attend state schools. Indeed, qualified students are already being denied admission due to a lack of available seats. University of Maryland Chancellor William Kirwan said last month that the school would be cutting 1,300 seats statewide.

There is something inherently wrong with denying a child from Annapolis, Baltimore or Prince George’s County who is an American citizen the ability to attend a state university, while granting that privilege to someone living illegally in the United States. But the equity argument carries little weight with House Speaker Michael Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, and other supporters of the bill, including CASA of Maryland, an Hispanic advocacy group. When Delegate Herbert McMillan (an Anne Arundel Republican elected from the same district as Mr. Busch) offered his “No Marylander Left Behind” amendment to ensure that legal residents of the state would be not be denied admission in favor of someone in the country illegally, his proposal was defeated on a party-line 87-47 vote.

Some Democratic lawmakers, however, may be having second thoughts about their decision to support H.R. 1171. As The Washington Times reported last week, a survey paid for by Montgomery County Democrats found that most Marylanders oppose the in-state tuition measure. Asked about the survey, House Majority Leader Kumar Barve, one of the most liberal members of the legislature, sounded like a man thrown onto the defensive, protesting that, even though he supports in-state tuition for illegals, he still agrees with his constituents on a “vast majority” of issues.

Still, opponents of the bill have their work cut out for them. The 88 votes in favor of the bill in the House are two more than the minimum needed to override a veto by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who vetoed similar legislation last year. Should the Senate decide, as expected, to pass its own in-state tuition bill in the final weeks of this year’s session, another veto from Mr. Ehrlich would be in order.

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