House GOP kills undocumented student tuition bill again

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DENVER — Like a broken record, House Speaker Frank McNulty, when asked about a proposal to reduce college tuition for qualifying undocumented students, has said again and again that the bill would get “a fair hearing.”

But sponsors of Senate Bill 15, dubbed “Colorado ASSET” by supporters, believe the bill never had a chance following Wednesday’s vote by the House Finance Committee, with all seven Republican members holding the line and voting no, killing the proposal.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who sponsored the bill and ushered it through the Senate, told FOX31 that, after lobbying Republicans on the House Finance Committee, it seemed to him that they were “locked down” in opposition to the bill and unwilling to budge.

The 6-7 party-line vote, following four hours of testimony, marks the second straight year House Republicans killed such a proposal after it passed the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“What’s frustrating for me is we’re putting these kids lives in limbo. And we don’t have to,” said former Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, an immigrant himself and now the CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who framed his argument in economic terms.

“We’ve invested in them,” Vidal said. “It makes good economic sense. Lets let them get educated. We need the educated work force.”

Whereas last year’s bill would have provided students with unsubsidized in-state tuition, this year’s would have created a new category of tuition higher than the in-state rate, but lower than the out-of-state rate undocumented students currently have to pay.

It also added a provision that would allow colleges and universities to opt out; and nearly all of the state’s colleges and universities had come out in support of the legislation, which was also endorsed by several high-profile Republicans and the Denver Post editorial board.

“We have an incredible coalition asking you to find a solution for these students,” Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, told the committee during her closing remarks.

Those changes were enough to secure the support of Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, whose vote helped S.B. 15 survive a hearing Monday before the House Education Committee, the panel that killed last year’s bill when Massey voted with his fellow Republicans against it.

But, on Wednesday, the seven Republicans considering the bill stuck together, arguing that the law may conflict with federal law and that it doesn’t make sense to help undocumented students get through college when their undocumented status will prevent them from getting jobs once they graduate.

“I couldn’t even hire them to deliver pizzas,” said Rep. Brian Delgrosso, R-Loveland, the committee chairman and owner of several Dominoes franchises. “Because they couldn’t legally work here.”