Archive for Friday, February 27, 2004

Immigrant tuition bill may face trouble in House

February 27, 2004


— A bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay cheaper, in-state tuition at Kansas' public universities faces an uncertain fate in the House after senators approved it.

The Senate vote Thursday was 25-15 vote and pointed up a broad division of opinion. All 10 Senate Democrats voted for the bill, but the GOP split 15-15, with support coming both from Republicans who traditionally take moderate positions on social issues as well as those usually taking conservative stances.

Under the bill, students who are in the country illegally but have lived in Kansas at least three years would be charged the lower, resident tuition rate at public universities, community colleges and vocational colleges. Such students would have to prove that they are seeking citizenship or legal resident status.

The House passed a slightly different version last year on an 81-43 vote and must now consider whether to accept the changes made in the Senate.

Typically, the two chambers would negotiate over such changes. But House Speaker Doug Mays said he might assign the bill to a committee for another full round of hearings and debate in his chamber.

"It's been a long time since the bill came through here," said Mays, R-Topeka. "I think a number of people have changed their minds on this."

Some House members said Thursday they were hearing from constituents opposed to granting illegal immigrants a break on the cost of public higher education.

The bill as approved by the Senate provides that to receive the in-state tuition rate, a student who had lived in Kansas at least three years would also have to be a graduate of a Kansas high school or hold a General Educational Development certificate issued in the state.

Kansas residents pay significantly lower tuition at the state's public universities than students from outside Kansas. For example, tuition for 15 undergraduate hours at the University of Kansas this semester is $1,763 for residents and $5,501 for non-residents. At Pittsburg State University, the rates are $1,175 and $4,086, respectively.

¢ A bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay cheaper, in-state tuition at public universities won Senate approval but faced an uncertain fate in the House.¢ The Senate approved a bill to let the state raise the speed limit to 75 mph on divided highways with at least four lanes and a current limit of 70 mph.¢ Senators gave first-round approval to a bill to require sheriffs to notify schools when a registered sex offender lives within 1,000 feet.

Four of the state's 19 community colleges do not distinguish between in-state and non-resident students. But at the largest such school -- Johnson County Community College -- tuition per credit hour is $46 for county residents, $61 for other Kansans and $127 for students from outside Kansas.

Even some proponents of the legislation acknowledge that the bill is unpopular with many Kansans.

"There's just a lot of frustration out there over illegal immigration that spills over into this issue," said House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greenburg, who supported his chamber's version last year.

During a Senate debate Wednesday, critics predicted passage of the bill would anger many Kansans who view it as rewarding lawbreakers and who worry about illegal immigrants taking jobs from them.

McKinney said it is difficult to convey that only immigrants or immigrant children who have lived in the state for three years would be eligible for lower tuition rates.

"It's always phrased as a giveaway to illegal immigrants when it's actually some assistance to people living here and working here and paying taxes," McKinney said. "My question is, who benefits from denying someone an education?"

Immigrant tuition is HB 2008.

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