House passes amended bill repealing Utah college tuition for illegal immigrants

Published: Tuesday, March 1 2011 12:52 a.m. MST

Representatives, Carl Wimmer, and David Clark listen to Alia Herod, wife of rep. Chris Herod (right) as they react to the omnibus immigration bill sponsored by Curtis Bramble during a press conference at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City Monday, February 28, 2011.

Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Sniping between the House and Senate over how to approach illegal immigration legislation took center stage at the Capitol again Monday.

With passage of a bill aimed at repealing in-state tuition for undocumented college students, the House has now approved four measures on the controversial subject.

And the primary movers behind those bills are accusing the Senate of cherry-picking them for a comprehensive proposal they say they can't support.

"This bill has been drafted behind closed doors in the waning hours of the session," Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said at a news conference he and other lawmakers held to denounce Sen. Curt Bramble's SB288. "We believe each bill deserves to stand on its own merit."

Bramble's bill, made public Friday, is scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday afternoon. It includes provisions for enforcement, guest worker cards, employment verification and in-state tuition. There are eight working days left in the session.

"It's not our intention to highjack House bills and turn them into our bills," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. Still, he said "we'll do what we gotta do" to get Senate ideas into the bills.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said the Senate wants a comprehensive solution whether it's one bill or several bills. He said Sandstrom's bill has support in the Senate, will be heard in a legislative hearing and debated on the floor.

Though both bodies appear poised to pass some form of illegal immigration legislation, at least one lawmaker acknowledged the head-butting could end in nothing happening.

"I'm not so sure that's not the objective of some of these folks," said Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, the former House speaker who joined Sandstrom at the news conference.

To date, the Senate has not voted on any illegal immigration bills. The House, meantime, has passed Sandstrom's enforcement-only bill; Rep. Chris Herrod's measuring penalizing businesses that hire illegal immigrants; Rep. Bill Wright's guest worker program and now an amended version of Rep. Carl Wimmer's repeal of resident tuition for undocumented students.

Wimmer, R-Herriman, attempted to use his bill Monday to send a message to the Senate.

He proposed an amendment that it supersede the in-state provision in Bramble's bill, making HB191 "the final word on this issue." Bramble, R-Provo, has supersedeing language his bill regarding the enforcement piece.

"This is truly one of the ways we're going to be able to push back and retain the integrity of the body," Wimmer told House members.

House members narrowly defeated that amendment 38-34.

The House did amend the bill to require undocumented students, their parents or guardian to pay state income taxes for three years as a condition of obtaining in-state tuition. The time period matches the amount of years a student must attend a Utah high school (and graduate) to be eligible for the benefit.

Wimmer said that's not an unreasonable expectation. "All we're asking is for a little personal responsibility," he said. "How could that be wrong?"

Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, said legislators could be treading on equal protection laws.

"It almost smacks of being a poll or special tax," she said.

As for HB191 itself, which ultimately passed 44-28, Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, invoked Abraham Lincoln and Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in arguing against it. He said it would discourage Latinos, whether citizens or not, from going to college.

"If we narrow the schoolhouse doors in any way, we go against our higher duty," he said.

Majority Assistant Whip Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, said everyone is frustrated over the federal government's inaction on illegal immigration. But "we're going to take out our frustration with a broken system … and punish 650 students."

Currently, 643 noncitizen students attend Utah colleges and universities, generating $2.3 million in resident tuition. According to legislative fiscal analysts, that figure would be $5.5 million higher if they paid nonresident tuition.

Wimmer said the difference is something the state can't and shouldn't afford for illegal immigrants.

"I'm really taken aback by some of the arguments I've heard against this, that we have to open the door to education. I guess. How do we pay for that?"

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com

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