DENVER | Colorado state Sen. Ted Harvey said he wasn’t surprised to learn that a key vote on a bill to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants had been rescheduled after he went out of town to care for an Alzheimer’s-afflicted relative in deteriorating health.
Mr. Harvey, a Republican, had planned to vote against Senate Bill 170 when it came up at the Friday committee hearing. After Mr. Harvey flew to Florida on Tuesday morning, however, Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee moved up the vote to Wednesday.
Without Mr. Harvey, the bill passed 5-4. A Harvey vote would have resulted in a 5-5 tie killing the legislation.
“I’m not surprised,” said Mr. Harvey in a telephone interview with The Washington Times on Thursday, following his return to Colorado. “They manipulated it as much as they possibly could to get the vote they wanted.”
The vote sends the bill to the Senate floor for debate. The House has already passed similar legislation, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter Jr., a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill.
Other Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee tried to stop the early vote, but were stymied by Democrats. The committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Abel Tapia, later told Denver media outlets that the vote was rescheduled so that the committee could clear its backlog of bills.
Mr. Tapia was on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Harvey wasn’t buying it. “We often have 20 or so bills in Appropriations,” he told The Times. “They could have easily had a meeting [before I left] Monday morning or Friday afternoon.
“The only reason they did this on a Wednesday is because they knew I wouldn’t be there,” Mr. Harvey said.
The vote touched off an outcry among foes of the bill, who accused Democrats of taking advantage of Mr. Harvey’s family emergency. Denver talk-show host Peter Boyles denounced the maneuver, while Mr. Harvey said he had been inundated with messages of support.
Even the Denver Post, which has supported the legislation, criticized Democrats for playing “dirty pool.”
“Adopting those tactics, however, only gives critics of the bill more fuel for an already furious fire,” said the Post’s Thursday editorial. “If Republicans had pulled a stunt like this one, Democrats would be screaming foul.”
Mr. Harvey left town Tuesday morning to tend to his 86-year-old father-in-law, Jack Trommater, who had been hospitalized in Florida for the past three months. Mr. Trommater suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and must use a wheelchair to get around.
The family had decided to move Mr. Trommater to a nursing home in Colorado, and Mr. Harvey joined his wife and mother-in-law in transporting the ailing man to Denver.
“He was just released this week,” Mr. Harvey said. “The way it worked was that I was needed to help my wife and mother-in-law. There’s no way that my wife and mother-in-law could have transferred him from a wheelchair to the car to the airplane, and then back to the wheelchair and the car.”
Republicans could have substituted a legislator for Mr. Harvey with two days’ notice, but weren’t given enough warning, Mr. Harvey said. The committee hearing was rescheduled Tuesday afternoon, he said, the day before the vote.
Democrats also argued that it wasn’t necessary to wait for Mr. Harvey because the vote only concerned the legislation’s fiscal impact.
Democrats say the bill would have a positive effect on the state budget because more students would be attending state universities and thus paying tuition. Republicans counter that the state will lose money because those students would ordinarily be paying the higher out-of-state tuition rate.
The bill would give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years. The students must also attend college within one year of graduation or earning their GED.
Nine states have similar laws, although many are awaiting court challenges.