A proposed repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented students may have been removed from an omnibus immigration bill under consideration in the Senate, but the proposal remains alive as a stand-alone measure.
HB231 would repeal a 2002 law that allows undocumented immigrants pay the lower in-state tuition rate if they attend a Utah high school for three years and graduate.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved the measure in a 39-35 vote, after it was amended to delay the effective date so that students who enroll by Sept. 30, 2010, would be able to take advantage of the waiver.
"It gives the federal government an additional two-and-a-half years to do something," said Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, the measure's sponsor. "Hopefully, the government will come to the rescue."
There are currently 280 students taking advantage of the waiver across the state, according to the Utah System of Higher Education.
Following the House vote, Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said, "We are very disappointed ... that the House would rather end the ability for growth and education."
The attempt at repealing the 2002 law has long been a contentious issue. This is the first time it has been approved by the House. Last year, it died in a tied vote with a co-sponsor absent.
The bill now moves to the Senate, where President John Valentine, R-Orem, said he believed it would pass, adding, "the thinking is that it's largely symbolic and it has a tendency to encourage people to come to Utah and to stay in Utah."
Gov. Jon Hunstman Jr. supports keeping the in-state tuition law, as does the the Alliance for Unity, a group of civic, business and religious leaders, including Elder M. Russell Ballard of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
"The governor does not support this legislation," said Lisa Roskelley, spokeswoman for the governor Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "He is very concerned about the implications."
The Alliance released a statement on Tuesday expressing, "strong and unanimous opposition" to the repeal. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined comment on the legislation, said chuch spokesman Scott Trotter.
However, Valentine said those who take advantage of the program can't be legally employed once they graduate.
"The state pays for a big portion of the subsidy," he said. "We're paying for their education and then we don't get any return back ... because they can't be employed."
Beattie was among about 20 business leaders at a press conference announcing an Immigration Policy Coalition of business leaders advocating for a Senate proposal to create a task force to study the immigration issue during the interim. That bill, SB97, is up for a committee hearing today.
Still, following the announcement Beattie said he appreciated that Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, was willing to remove the tuition repeal and an income tax provision from SB81. Beattie added he's "very close to being able to support it."
Hickman said Tuesday, "Mr. Beattie and I agree on 99.9 percent of the bill," saying the point of disagreement is a reporting requirement in the comprehensive measure.
"I can understand his position, but I felt like it was important for the public good," Hickman said. "Businesses in this state need to participate as all good citizens do in making sure the element of the law is followed."
Valentine acknowledged the "business community has a legitimate concern about some of the bills because they directly affect them," including employment verification.
"That's the one we're spending our emphasis on because we believe the business community has a legitimate concern if we don't do that right, we could end up with the kind of problems that Arizona and Oklahoma have," the Senate leader said.
Some issues related to immigration will be set aside for study as suggested by the business leaders Tuesday, Valentine said. "There will be some bills passed this session. There will be other bills that I believe will be studied for future effect."
But, he said, constituents want action now including some 80 percent of his own.
"We hear people in our communities, they want us to do something about immigration," Valentine said.
Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, who's sponsoring an employment verification bill that was sent to the House floor by committee on Tuesday, said he hoped the Senate wouldn't send it to interim study.
"For me anything sent to interim is a kill bill," Herrod said, of HB257, which would require employers that contract with the state use the federal E-Verify program to check the work eligibility of new hires. The House has already approved HB98, which Donnelson is sponsoring to require public employees use E-Verify.
Donnelson also expressed concerns about the Senate sending measures targeting illegal immigration to interim study. He says the reason bills targeting illegal immigration are seeing more success this year than they have in the past likely has to do with constituent pressure.
He's received word from his constituents, he said, that "the federal government is not doing anything, as my representative, you need to do something ... the more we ignore it the harder it's going to be."
Meanwhile, those opposed to the tution law repeal worry that future students could lose hope if it passes. Karen Crompton, co-chair of the Utahns for the American Dream Coaltion, said her group is planning to distribute excerpts of the documentary "Easy Targets" to senators, so they can hear from the undocumented students who are attending school under the waiver."The American dream has always been about hope," said Karen Crompton, co-chair of the Utahns for the American Dream Coaltion. "A big part of that is education."