Illegal immigrant tuition passes hurdle in Colo.
April 2, 2009
DENVER ” A bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition survived a narrow committee vote in the Colorado Senate on Wednesday, with Republicans accusing majority Democrats of using bare-knuckle “Tom DeLay tactics” to keep the measure alive.
Democrats scheduled the vote during the absence of a Republican senator whose vote likely would have stalled the bill.
That prompted Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry of Grand Junction to compare the Democrats to DeLay, the Texas Republican whose strong-arm tactics as speaker of the U.S. House earned him the nickname “The Hammer.”
Democrats denied manipulating the schedule.
The Senate Appropriations Committee endorsed the bill on a 5-4 vote and sent it to the full Senate for debate. A handful of opponents who said they heard about the early-morning vote on the Peter Boyles radio show watched from the audience, along with lobbyists.
Committee member Sen. Ted Harvey, a Highlands Ranch Republican who opposes the bill, was absent. He told The Denver Post he went to Florida to help his father-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s disease, move to Colorado. Had he been present, the vote would have been 5-5 and the bill wouldn’t have made it out of committee.
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The bill had originally been scheduled for a vote Friday, when Harvey is due to return, but it was rescheduled for Wednesday.
Penry said Democrats didn’t give Republicans enough time to ask for another Republican to temporarily take Harvey’s place on the committee. He accused Democrats of moving up the vote to take advantage of Harvey’s absence.
“It’s either that or an amazing coincidence. It’s reminiscent of what the Republicans did in Washington. These are Tom DeLay tactics,” Penry said.
Committee chairman Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, said the tuition bill was moved up to help clear out a backlog caused by delays in balancing the state budget.
Tapia said the tuition bill, which has been awaiting a vote for nearly three weeks, and others were moved up because their fiscal analyses were complete. He said that clears the way for the committee to vote on more than a dozen other bills Friday.
Bill sponsor Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, accused Republicans of using a “gimmick” of their own by asking to delay the vote until Friday.
The Appropriations Committee is technically supposed to consider only the financial implications of bills, and since fiscal analysts have said the tuition measure won’t cost the state money, there was no reason to delay a vote, Romer said.
Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, argued the bill violates a federal law that bars states from offering illegal immigrants any benefits that aren’t offered to citizens from other states.
Despite the federal law, 10 states have passed laws allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. But Kopp said he wanted to make GOP objections clear for the record because he said the issue would end up in court if the bill passes.
“It’s going to go to court, it’s going to be overturned, and it’s going to cost the state a lot of money to defend itself,” Kopp said.
Romer, who had pointed out that “red states” like Texas and Utah had passed such laws, jumped in to respond.
“And I look forward to bringing former President George W. Bush in to testify why he thinks this makes sense,” Romer said.
Kopp said Bush had nothing to do with the issue. The two then started to argue, but Tapia steered the discussion back toward the bill.