Supporters of Senate Bill 11-126, designed to make it easier for undocumented students to attend state colleges, vowed Monday to bring the idea back to the Capitol next year.
Democratic sponsors Sen. Mike Johnston and Rep. Joe Miklosi of Denver tried to cheer up young supporters immediately after the 7-6 vote to kill the bill. “We’ve got to scrap and fight. … We are on the right side of history on this one,” Johnston told a group gathered in the Capitol’s west foyer.
A few minutes earlier, the seven Republican members outvoted the committee’s six Democrats following 5 ½ hours of testimony, unsuccessful amendments and a little bit of suspense.
The defeat in the Republican-controlled House didn’t come as a major surprise, although Johnston and other supporters had held out hope that they could get the bill out of committee and even win floor passage, given that the GOP has only a one-vote majority.
A 2009 version of the bill was killed on the floor of the then-Democratic Senate. This year the Senate passed SB 11-126, so this was the first time the idea made it to the House.
Supporters this year put heavy emphasis on what they believed were the economic benefits of the bill – getting more bright students into college and helping strengthen the state’s workforce. They dubbed it the ASSET bill – Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow.
Representatives of groups like Colorado Forum and Colorado Succeeds supported the bill in testimony Monday, along with chambers of commerce. Several education groups also supported the bill.
Denver Mayor Bill Vidal, an immigrant himself as a child, and former Mayor Federico Peña testified for the bill.
In the end that wasn’t enough to sway the vote of just one Republican.
Most of the 13 committee members gave speeches explaining their views before the final votes were cast.
Several Republicans said they felt they couldn’t vote for a bill they saw as bending or breaking the law. “We are a country of laws. I just can’t set that aside because of individual stories. I don’t take any joy in opposing this bill,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.
Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster and himself the son of a legal Mexican immigrant, talked about how he understood both sides of the issue, criticized federal handling of immigration and acknowledged that his was the vote Democrats were hoping to get.
But, Ramirez said, “I’m not going to tell you right this second how I’m going to vote.” A few minutes later, when the roll was called, Ramirez paused and then voted no.
Chair Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, who often votes with Democrats, didn’t explain his no vote but said, “I have no doubt we’ll see it again next year.”
Nearly 50 witnesses testified on the bill, about two-thirds of them in support. Aside from a couple of anti-immigration hard liners, the discussion was largely tempered and polite.
The bill would have covered students who’d attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, been admitted to a state college within a year of graduating high school or earning a GED and who had completed affidavits saying they’d applied for lawful status or intended to do so when eligible.
The bill actually would have created a third, more expensive level of tuition, since students covered by the bill would not have been eligible for College Opportunity Fund stipends or state need-based financial aid so would have paid more than other resident students, an average of $2,000.
The bill was projected to raise up to $1.28 million a year in tuition revenue for state colleges.
Democratic amendments to raise the cost for undocumented students and delay implementation of the program until a federal DREAM Act is passed, designed to attract a Republican vote, were defeated.
In other action
Several education and budget measures moved in the legislature Monday, including:
• Senate Bill 11-230, the 2011-12 school finance act, was amended in the House last week to further soften the cuts to K-12 schools – if state year-end revenues come in higher that originally forecast. The House gave final 59-3 approval to the bill this morning. The Senate will have to agree to the House amendments, but that’s expected.
• Senate Bill 11-209, the 2010-11 long appropriations bill, was re-passed by the House on a 56-6 vote. The compromise version as drafted by the Joint Budget Committee includes full $5 million funding for the Colorado Counselor Corps. The Senate is expected to approve the compromise bill later this week.
• Senate Bill 11-133, a bill that would create a between-sessions study of school discipline methods and overuse of expulsions, suspensions and police referrals, won preliminary Senate passage. While legislative leaders have put it on the “approved” studies list, it still must go through the House.
• Senate Bill 11-259, Sen. Keith King’s plan to create a special type of school district tax override that would be partially matched by the state, was introduced in the Senate. The Colorado Springs Republican may have a challenge with this, if only because the session has to adjourn the week after next. However, he does have influential bipartisan sponsorship, including Massey; Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins and chair of the Senate Education Committee, and other Democrats and Republicans from both education panels.
• House Bill 11-1277 received final floor approval in the House. Originally intended as a sweeping streamlining in state mandates on school districts, the measure has been amended to allow districts to provide information to the legislature on the potential cost of new education laws and to make some changes in special education, accountability and online education laws, particularly in reporting requirements.
Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to bill texts and status information