Topeka An attempt to repeal a law giving undocumented students a tuition break failed Tuesday, but the issue rages on.
"I've got my recorded votes, and the postcards will go out," Rep. Becky Hutchins, R-Holton, said, alluding to the expected onslaught of political mailouts during this fall's election.
In 2004, the state approved a law that lets some undocumented immigrants qualify for in-state tuition if they attended a Kansas high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a General Educational Development certificate in Kansas.
Last fall, 221 students enrolled under the law, most of them at community colleges, according to the Kansas Board of Regents.
Supporters of the tuition break say it is key to allowing children of undocumented immigrants to get a degree. A full-time undergraduate from Kansas pays $2,412 per semester at Kansas University for in-state tuition, compared with $6,638 for out-of-state residents.
But Hutchins sought to repeal the law, saying it was wrong to provide a benefit to people who are in the country illegally.
Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin, however, proposed an amendment that gutted Hutchins' bill and would have increased penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
He said sanctions against unscrupulous employers were the best way to tackle the problem of illegal immigration.
The first part of Holland's proposal, which struck Hutchins' repeal, was approved 63-58 and produced the most dramatic debate.
Rep. Mario Goico, R-Wichita, and a refugee from Cuba, voted to strike the repeal, saying that when he attended college at Wichita State University, he often was frustrated by having to pay the higher out-of-state tuition.
Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe, a native of Germany, said he also had to struggle as a young man in the United States, and that it wasn't fair to provide a break "to people who don't belong here."
But the repeal was rejected.
Then Hutchins and many supporters of the repeal argued against the second part of Holland's amendment, saying it was unfair to employers. The House voted 62-59 to send that provision back to committee, but this late in the legislative session that means it's probably dead.
House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka, who had wanted to repeal the tuition law, said he thought Tuesday's votes signaled the end of debate on the issue this year.
"It's not going to come back out of the committee," Mays said.
Hutchins said she might try to amend her proposal onto another bill. Either way, the issue definitely will become part of the political debate heading to this fall's election, she said.
She and even supporters of the tuition break conceded that many Kansans are adamantly opposed to helping the immigrant students.
But leaders of the Kansas Catholic Conference and the Salvation Army wrote legislators, asking them to keep the law intact.