In-state tuition measure one vote away from governor’s desk

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DENVER -- Thirteen years after the legislation was first introduced at the Capitol, a measure to give undocumented students in-state college tuition made its way to the House floor for the first time ever Tuesday.

Lawmakers Tuesday morning debated and gave initial approval to Senate Bill 33, which has already passed the full Senate and is now one final vote from the governor's desk.

"Today we've made history," said Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, one of the bill's sponsors.

A third and final House vote is likely to happen Friday.

"We need these students," said Williams. "Give them an opportunity to achieve the American Dream."

When signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, the bill dubbed Colorado ASSET is expected to assist roughly 1,000 undocumented students in the state afford college.

"Will these kids be better off if they're able to go to college and afford tuition?" asked Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, the bill's sponsor. "These students are going to be better off if they get in-state tuition."

"I think it's just terrible to waste a mind," said Rep. Ed Vigil, D-San Luis Valley.

Republicans, stung by major election losses with Hispanic voters, varied in their opposition, some couching their concerns about the bill in more empathetic terms, expressing hope that they can one day help the undocumented students even though they plan to vote against this proposal.

One Republican, Rep. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, said she plans to vote for the bill but  took issue with the bill's fiscal note that says the bill won't cost the state any money.

Other Republicans were more strident in taking issue with the cost to taxpayers now that this year's bill will provide full in-state tuition, including taxpayer-funded Colorado Opportunity Fund dollars, to undocumented students.

"Because our taxpayers fund this, I believe our taxpayers need to vote on this," said Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument.

Duran called a failed House GOP amendment to refer the question of in-state tuition for undocumented students to voters with a ballot initiative "arrogant."

"These people pay taxes," Duran said. "But you're saying they shouldn't have a say."

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, noted that in 2006, then-Speaker Andrew Romanoff and a Democratic House majority sponsored a measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Bill Owens that prohibited state funds from going to any program that would benefit undocumented immigrants.

"It's weird for me to stand here agreeing with Andrew Romanoff and [then Majority Leader] Joan FitzGerald, but I do," McNulty said.

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, told lawmakers he will support the bill, despite some concerns; conversely, Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, who voted to pass the bill out of committee last week so it could be debated on the floor, said he'd vote against it because his district opposes it.

In the Senate last month, three Republicans cast votes in support of the bill.