DENVER — A freshman state senator who knocked off a longtime GOP lawmaker in a primary last summer by running as a Tea Party conservative was the lone Republican lawmaker to join Democrats Thursday in voting for a proposal to grant in-state college tuition to qualifying undocumented students.
Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said very little during a hearing before the Senate Education Committee Thursday afternoon before casting his aye vote, which sent Senate Bill 33 onto the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 6-3 vote.
It was the first time ever that tuition equity legislation passed a committee hearing with bipartisan support, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Johnston.
After the hearing, Hill told reporters about seeing the Statue of Liberty as a kid.
“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Hill said. “We’ve got a moral duty to break down the barriers that government imposes.”
Overall, Republicans won’t have much to say about the legislation dubbed “ASSET” now that Democrats control both the state House and Senate. In fact, the only drama accompanying the bill as it makes its way through the Capitol this session is how many other GOP lawmakers, perhaps recognizing the party’s problem with Hispanic voters, decide to vote to support it.
Only one person showed up at the Capitol Thursday to testify against the measure.
But Johnston, D-Denver, the former principal who’s sponsoring the legislation for a third straight year, told FOX31 that this year’s hearings might be the most meaningful of all he’s been through.
“For kids who have sat through dozens of these hearings, now they sit through with a spring in their step, knowing there’s a chance this might actually result in more of an opportunity for them down the road,” Johnston said.
More than 200 such students have already enrolled at Metro State University of Denver, which dropped tuition for undocumented students last fall.
The school’s president, Dr. Steven Jordan, testified Thursday that the state should join Metro State in its mission of making college more affordable and accessible to all.
“Just imagine, imagine what will be possible when this bill passes,” Jordan said.
Yesenya Saucedo, a student at Bruce Randolph in Denver, has dared to imagine herself as a civil engineer.
Her story, which she told to lawmakers at Thursday’s hearing, silenced the hearing room and reminded lawmakers, many of whom have heard this debate several times over several years, of the consequences of their inaction — and what their action this year could mean.
“In kindergarten, I was afraid I wouldn’t understand the language of the other kids,” Saucedo said. “Freshman year, I was afraid that my dream of being a civil engineer was never going to come true.
“My status has cost me internships, scholarships, affording college, international travel opportunities and the ability to have a driver’s license.”
After scoring highly on her ACT, Saucedo has been accepted to three colleges; as she told lawmakers, her decision rests in the hands of Colorado lawmakers.
“Please allow my dreams to flourish, and for me to contribute back to the state I call home,” she said to the panel. “Please allow me to pick the option where I will receive the best education for civil engineering by making college more affordable not just for me, but for the hundreds of other students who are in the same position as me.”