ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland lawmakers renewed debate yesterday over one of the sharpest topics to come up in recent years — whether to allow residents who are illegal aliens to receive in-state tuition.
A Senate committee heard testimony on three bills on whether Maryland high school graduates who aren’t legally in this country should get in-state tuition rates.
The question inspires strong feelings on both sides — people who think illegal aliens shouldn’t get state subsidies and people who fear children brought here by their parents are wrongly priced out of getting lower tuition rates, even though they may have attended Maryland schools all their lives.
“It’s really an issue of fairness,” said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat, who sponsored a bill allowing residents to get in-state tuition regardless of citizenship status as long as they attended Maryland high schools for two years.
Last year, Maryland lawmakers considered joining 11 states that allow residents to get in-state tuition regardless of citizenship. But the measure narrowly failed, and opposition to the idea has galvanized the state’s Republican minority.
“You’re rewarding illegal behavior,” said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican who was criticized for appearing to support in-state tuition for illegal aliens during his recent congressional primary, in which he ousted an incumbent.
Mr. Harris proposed a bill preventing the state from awarding in-state tuition rates for illegal residents. He argued yesterday that in-state tuition is a state subsidy and that giving the subsidy to illegal aliens would take a college spot away from a law-abiding student.
Lawmakers also heard a similar bill that would guarantee an out-of-state student would not pay higher tuition than a foreign national.
“We’re going to take care of our children. We’re going to make sure they’re taken care of first,” said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, Anne Arundel Republican, who sponsored that bill.
The measures inspired strong feelings, just as in years past.
Lawmakers heard testimony from students from other countries who urged lawmakers to allow students brought here as young children to receive in-state tuition. Panelists included a boy who said he might not be able to attend college because he can’t get in-state tuition.
“That’s what I’m afraid of, that I won’t be able to go to school,” said Edgar Mondragon, a senior at Bladensburg High School who wants to study computers but doesn’t qualify for in-state tuition because he is not a citizen.
Lawmakers also heard from a college student who opposed granting in-state tuition to people without legal presence.
“This is an institution that must be safeguarded for the citizens of Maryland,” said Ryan Zick, a sophomore at the University of Maryland at College Park, and an intern for Mr. Simonaire.
Senators did not vote on any of the proposals. Top lawmakers indicated that tuition measures will not be considered this term.
The committee also started work on proposals to trim textbook costs for college students. The proposals would include requirements that college professors wait a certain period of time before assigning new books. The University System testified in favor of a sales-tax break on textbooks.
The Senate voted to expand protected groups under the state’s hate-crimes laws to include homeless people.
The bill passed on a 40-4 vote.
Current hate-crimes laws apply to a person’s race, color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or national origin.
The National Coalition for the Homeless documented 142 crimes against homeless people across the country in 2006, including 20 deaths.
Legislation pending in the Senate would exempt nursing mothers from jury duty.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, said she has known of instances in her own district in which breast-feeding mothers were required to serve on juries, even though they argued they couldn’t be away from their babies.
Mrs. Jacobs said she introduced the bill because of a case a few years ago in which an Anne Arundel County mother was cited for contempt of court. A similar bill was introduced in 2004 but died in a legislative committee.
The proposed exemption would be allowed until the nursing child turns 2 years old.
A bill to increase penalties for people who attend illegal dogfights was approved by the Senate.
The measure passed on a 44-0 vote, but was amended recently so it is not nearly as strong as initially proposed.
The bill would have made it a felony for someone to knowingly attend a dogfight or cockfight, but the Senate decided to keep the crime a misdemeanor. The bill also was amended to increase the maximum penalty to one year in prison and a $2,500 fine, instead of three years.
Now, the maximum penalty is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
A separate animal-fighting bill was rejected by a House committee. That raises questions about whether lawmakers will address dogfighting and animal cruelty this year.
Maryland lawmakers are trying again to pass tougher penalties for people who give alcohol to minors.
The House voted unanimously yesterday to make it a misdemeanor to knowingly provide someone under 21 with alcohol. Current law makes it a civil fine, not punishable by jail time.
The bill would make the crime punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and 60 days in jail. The measure’s sponsor, Delegate Tanya Thornton Shewell, Carroll Republican, said adults who supply alcohol to teens should be subject to arrest, with their fingerprints and a mug shot taken.
The House passed the same bill last year, but it failed in the Senate. Mrs. Shewell said her hopes are higher this year, though a similar bill in the Senate has not yet had a public hearing.