- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 8, 2011

Immigrant-advocacy group Casa de Maryland has conceded the validity of signatures gathered against the Maryland Dream Act but will continue its lawsuit to block a 2012 referendum on the issue.

Casa and other advocates this week dropped their challenge to the “sufficiency” of signatures on the petition drive to suspend the law and place it on the November 2012 ballot.

The plaintiffs filed suit in August against the state over its approval of the petition against the Dream Act, which would allow many illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. The petition was signed by more than 108,000 registered voters — nearly twice the number required to suspend the law and send it to a referendum.

Plaintiffs sued on grounds that thousands of signatures were invalid and that the law dictates state spending and is therefore ineligible for referendum. But they have since reviewed many signatures and now concede most were valid, Casa attorney Joseph Sandler said Thursday.

The plaintiffs, however, will continue to argue that the act cannot legally be put to a public vote.

“This is exactly the kind of law that Maryland keeps off the ballot,” Mr. Sandler said, “because it leads to disruption of Maryland programs, which is exactly what is happening here.”

The General Assembly approved the act in April, making Maryland the 11th state to approve a version of the legislation. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, signed it into law the following month.

Opponents then launched a petition drive to block the law, buoyed largely by the website MDPetitions.com, which allowed signers to print and circulate their own copies.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that the site violated state laws by automatically filling in some personal information for users who downloaded the petition.

They hoped the lawsuit would be a landmark case in determining the validity of online petitions toward referendum efforts. But Mr. Sandler acknowledged that even if courts chose to throw out the signatures in question, petitioners still would likely have more than enough signers.

While plaintiffs will hang their case entirely on the Dream Act not being subject to referendum, their opponents call the claim a last-ditch effort to block a public vote on the law.

Delegate Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, says the act is not an appropriations bill because it does not set spending within the state budget and was not reviewed by the House Appropriations or Senate Budget and Taxation committees — the two groups that typically review appropriations bills.

“We felt from the beginning that was their weakest argument,” said Mr. McDonough, who led the petition effort with Delegate Neil C. Parrott, Washington Republican. “And it seems to me that it’s their last desperate position that they have.”

A September poll by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies Inc. showed that Marylanders are divided virtually eventually on the Dream Act. Of 805 respondents to the poll, 51 percent said they oppose it and 47 percent said they support it.

• David Hill can be reached at dhill@washingtontimes.com.

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