Immigrant tuition proposal before Colorado Senate |

Immigrant tuition proposal before Colorado Senate

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post/APAs tuition-bill sponsor Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, speaks Thursday at the Capitol, co-sponsor Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, shakes hands with bill opponent Stan Weekes, director of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform. The state Senate's Education Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 126, which would allow illegal immigrants who attend at least three years of high school in Colorado to pay the in-state tuition rate if they go to college.

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a measure that would set a new tuition rate for residents who are illegal immigrants.

Republicans weren’t swayed. This year’s immigrant tuition proposal survived on a party-line vote, but it’s still unclear whether the proposal will meet its death in the Republican House, as it did last year.

The bill would create a new “standard tuition” rate – higher than in-state tuition but lower than out-of-state tuition. Legislative analysts projected that some 500 illegal immigrants who reside in Colorado would use the new rate.

Democratic supporters argued Friday that the new “standard tuition” won’t cost taxpayers, and could attract new revenue to the schools.

“Tell me what doesn’t make sense about allowing these kids to stay here and do this?” asked Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder. “Yes, this can be an emotional decision. But just look at the dollars and cents.”

Republicans dismissed the “standard tuition” proposal as window dressing that didn’t repair what they consider the foundational problem with the idea.

“The question is, do you want to give someone that’s here illegally this benefit?” said Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.

After one more ceremonial vote, the tuition measure goes to the House. That’s where things get interesting, because Republicans have a one-vote majority and the bill’s outcome could hinge on legislative nuance such as which committee considers the bill.

Last year, an immigrant tuition measure died in the House Judiciary Committee. If House Republicans send the bill to another committee, or if a lawmaker changes his or her mind, the outcome could be different. So far House Speaker Frank McNulty has not revealed where he’d assign the measure.

It’s too soon to say whether any House Republicans will be swayed by the new “standard tuition” proposal. Some sort of immigrant tuition bill has been proposed, and rejected, five times before.

If Senate Republicans were any guide Friday, the “standard tuition” idea isn’t changing GOP minds. Republicans who spoke against the bill argued that lowered tuition for illegal immigrants sends the wrong message no matter how it’s done.

“It doesn’t fix the problem, it extends the problem” of illegal immigration, said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.