Posted 4/10/2013 11:15 am
Updated 8 months ago
LITTLE ROCK - A state Senate committee deadlocked Wednesday on a proposal aimed at allowing Arkansas colleges and universities to extend in-state tuition rates to some immigrants who came to the country as children illegally.
With a 3-3 vote, the Senate Education Committee failed to pass the proposal, which would have allowed individual schools to set their own criteria at the cheaper, in-state rate. The measure needed at least five votes - a majority of the eight-member panel - to advance to the Senate floor. Chairman Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, didn't cast a vote, and one member was absent.
Sen. Joyce Elliott had amended her proposal, which originally would have extended the rates to some immigrants in the United States illegally, after facing struggling to find support in the Senate. Past efforts by Elliott to extend the in-state tuition rate to some immigrants failed in the 2005 and 2009 sessions.
"It's about kids, it's about our future, and it's about the economy of our state," Elliott, D-Little Rock, told the panel before the vote.
Elliott's original proposal would have granted in-state tuition rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma or general education diploma in the state. It also would have required the students to file affidavits stating that they intend to seek legal immigration status.
Elliott amended her proposal to remove those provisions. Instead, it would state that each public college and university has the authority to determine its own criteria for extending in-state tuition. The rules for implementing the legislation would be left up to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board.
It's unclear whether the board would allow the schools to grant the rate to immigrants who are here illegally. As attorney general in 2005, Gov. Mike Beebe said a similar measure violated a 1996 federal law that said no higher-education benefit could be provided to immigrants who are in the country illegally unless the benefit is also available to every U.S. citizen.
Beebe's office has said those concerns remain, but the governor was not opposing Elliott's bill this time. Elliott's proposal had the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce and some college presidents, who said it was needed to guarantee a skilled workforce.
One Republican lawmaker who voted against the bill said he was opposed to extending the in-state tuition rate to immigrants in the country illegally, and saw the revised version as even more problematic.
"This one opened it up more broadly and gave colleges more latitude to do what they wanted to, in-state or out-of-state," said Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood. "It just really opened it up, and I wasn't in favor of that."
Elliott said she didn't know if she would try again with the proposal before the panel.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, broadcast or distributed.)