Different Landscape for Tuition Bill (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 5:22 pm  

Republican Sen. Johnny Key

The split among Republicans nationally on how best to reach out to Hispanic voters may boost Elliott's chances for getting her proposal through the Arkansas Legislature. Lawmakers have been silent on immigration issues this year, unlike the unsuccessful push in 2011 to cut off non-emergency state services for illegal immigrants.

Elliott may also have timing on her side. Colorado lawmakers approved a similar bill that the governor there is expected to sign into law, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington are continuing to negotiate immigration reform measures.

The biggest obstacle may be Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat who issued a legal opinion as the state's top attorney that helped kill the proposal in 2005. Beebe then said the proposal violated a 1996 federal law that said no higher-education benefit could be provided to illegal immigrants' children unless it's also available to every U.S. citizen.

If Elliott's proposal is the same as the past, Beebe said last week, "you've got a conflict with federal law."

Undaunted by Beebe's likely opposition, Elliott said the fact that other states have passed similar measures backs up her position that the bill is legal. She said she thinks the atmosphere has changed enough to make the proposal less of a politically charged debate than in the past.

"It's just about kids having an opportunity to get an education so our state can be better off," she said. "These kids want to make a contribution, and I think more and more people realize that."

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