Thursday, May 10, 2007

After delay, bill challenging in-state tuition law all but dead

This is such very good news. BUT, Zedler's bill could resurrect as an amendment somewhere else. It's not over 'til it's over. -Angela
After delay, bill challenging in-state tuition law all but dead

House legislation sought to overturn policy allowing undocumented students to get cheaper tuition at universities.

By Juan Castillo
Thursday, May 10, 2007
An attempt to overturn a groundbreaking 2001 Texas law allowing certain illegal immigrants to receive cheaper in-state tuition rates at state universities all but died in the House late Wednesday.

After Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, upheld a challenge to House Bill 159 on a technicality, the legislation's sponsor, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington,said it was too late to bring the bill back to the floor.

"I feel we had the votes to do this," a disappointed Zedler told reporters. "Let me tell you, this has been a big issue with our constituents."

Zedler said he would look for an opportunity to attach the bill to other legislation during the session's waning days.

Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, hailed Craddick's decision, calling Zedler's legislation an attack "on the most defenseless, in this case students who are doing well" academically.

House Bill 159 would have amended the Texas Education Code, prohibiting illegal immigrants from being considered residents and eligible for the cheaper tuition.

Since 2001, 11,130 of the millions of students attending Texas higher education institutions have used the law to qualify for cheaper tuition at 81 state universities, health-related institutions and community, technical or state colleges.

The figure includes undocumented students and legal residents, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Since Texas enacted the law, with strong bipartisan support and little opposition, nine other states have passed similar legislation.

But with Congress unable to find solutions to illegal immigration, state legislatures are struggling to decide whether to extend or deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

Three states have restricted access. In Arizona last year, voters approved a proposition denying in-state tuition to undocumented residents.

House Bill 159's supporters contended that making it easier for immigrants to attend public universities gives preference to people who violated immigration laws, costs taxpayers and provides incentives for illegal immigration.

"What we've done by this law is, we've encouraged illegal behavior," Zedler said during a contentious floor debate.

But Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who sponsored the original 2001 legislation in the House, said Zedler's legislation did not address whether the current policy has been successful.

Noriega said the bill affirmed voices of intolerance that believe immigrants cause "difficulties in our society."

"Do we believe that upholding immigration laws somehow equates to intolerance?" Zedler asked.

Noriega and supporters of the current law argued that it benefits the brightest overachievers with the greatest likelihood of contributing to Texas' economic future.

Having immigrants pay nonresident rates, which are more than three times higher, effectively puts higher education out of their reach, they contended.

They said it made little sense to effectively deny immigrants a higher education when the state spends tens of thousands per student to provide a primary and secondary education, required by federal law.; 445-3635

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