- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said yesterday he would sign proposed General Assembly legislation to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens and consider extending voting rights to felons.

“We are not a people or a country who has ever willfully chosen to condemn people to living in the shadows of our society,” he said.

State Republicans said they oppose both measures because they place the needs of criminals and illegal aliens before those of law-abiding residents.

“This place is out of control,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “It’s very offensive that we would offer a taxpayer benefit for illegal immigrants and deny that benefit for our fellow Americans.”

House and Senate leaders voted recently to waive the three-year period that those who have committed two felonies must wait to vote, but Mr. O’Malley has not said whether he would sign the bill.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly has blocked efforts by House and Senate Republicans to amend the voting rights bill.

“The Democrat majority has gone too far in passing legislation to allow convicted murderers, child molesters, rapists and many other violent offenders to regain the right to vote,” said Maryland Republican Party Chairman James Pelura. “All of these convicted felons are people who have rejected our society and civil order. This smacks in the face of law-abiding citizens and victims everywhere.”

The law does not apply to felons serving a sentence, who are not allowed to vote.

There are roughly 140,000 felons in Maryland who cannot vote, according to the Justice Maryland group.

Similar proposals have failed in previous General Assembly sessions.

According to the Sentencing Project, one of the advocacy groups supporting the proposals, three states deny voting rights to all former offenders, while 48 states prohibit inmates from voting while serving a sentence. Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote while serving sentences.

The House passed the bill Monday to grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens, and it is now before the Senate.

Mr. O’Malley said the state already is required to provide education for children of immigrants through high school and asked what the point would be to “cap their potential and not allow them to go to a state college.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, vetoed a similar bill lawmakers approved in 2003.

There are roughly 250,000 illegal aliens living in the state, but it is not clear how many of them are attending state universities.

Tuition for the University of Maryland at College Park this fall will be $7,969 for in-state students and $22,208 for out-of-state students.

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. To qualify for in-state tuition, nonresident students would have to have graduated from a Maryland high school and apply to college within five years of finishing high school.

Mr. O’Malley’s statement came the same day Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies released a poll on the governor’s approval rating.

Mr. O’Malley, in his first few months, received a 52 percent approval rating, with 21 percent of residents saying they disapproved of his job thus far and 27 percent saying they were undecided.

Mr. Ehrlich had similar numbers in his first few months in office.

A March 2003 poll showed Mr. Ehrlich had a 56 percent approval rating, with 23 percent disapproving and 18 percent having no opinion.

The margin of error for both polls was 3.5 percent.

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