The House Education Committee voted 9-4 Wednesday to pass the bill that would make undocumented students eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

Former Rep. Val Vigil
Former Rep. Val Vigil

The low-key session probably was the last full-blown committee hearing on the tuition issue because the bill seems destined for passage this session after a decade of failed attempts.

Former Rep. Val Vigil sounded the historical note in his testimony near the end of the hearing.

“It was 10 years ago when I introduced the in-state tuition bill for the first time. … The atmosphere from that time to today is totally different,” he said. “Probably 40 or 50 people testified against my bill, so the atmosphere has changed drastically.”

For the first time in years, there were no opposition witnesses, but there still were four no votes from Republican members of the committee.

Freshman Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain expressed sympathy for the witnesses who supported the bill but said she couldn’t vote for the measure until Congress deals with larger immigration issues.

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, struck a similarly sympathetic note but said he was voting no because there are “residents of this state who will be disappointed” with the bill.

“They deserve a voice here today.”

GOP Reps. Carole Murray of Castle Rock and Justin Everett of Littleton also voted no but didn’t speak.

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, voted yes, quoting Texas Gov. Rick Perry and President Reagan before saying, “This is the right policy for the state of Colorado.” Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida and a former superintendent, said he was “frustrated” about pieces of the bill because of federal inaction but was voting yes so the measure could have a full floor debate.

Committee Democrats, who all voted for the bill, noted the historic nature of the occasion.

“It’s a proud moment that I’m here today to vote yes for this bill,” said Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley.

(Last year’s House Education Committee passed a similar bill with one Republican casting the deciding vote. But that measure died in another committee of the House, which was controlled by the GOP in 2012.)

The hearing, which lasted less than two hours, had the air of the final performance of a long-running play.

Sponsors made familiar arguments about fairness for students, increased tuition revenue for colleges and benefits for Colorado’s workforce and economy.

Old Supreme Court Chamber
Old Supreme Court Chamber, Feb. 27, 2013

Familiar witnesses, from Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia to students, to college presidents, gave familiar statements. In contrast to packed past hearings, there was a sparse crowd in the Old Supreme Court Chamber, the Capitol’s largest hearing room.

To be eligible for resident tuition students must have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduation or finished a GED, be admitted to a state college or university and provide an affidavit stating they have applied for lawful residency in the U.S. or will apply as soon as they are eligible to do so.

Legislative fiscal analysts estimate the bill will raise $2 million in additional tuition revenue in 2013-14 and $3 million in 2014-15. The analysis projects 500 students would take advantage of the law next school year, with 250 more a year joining the program through 2016-17.

Technically the bill faces one more review in the House Appropriations Committee, but no public testimony is taken by that panel, and review generally is pro forma. The bill received final approval in the Senate last Monday and is expected to be debated on the House floor – and passed – next week.

Last union bill bites the dust

The Senate State Affairs Committee Wednesday voted 3-2 to kill Senate Bill 13-168, which would have given employees more flexibility to opt in or out of union membership and payment of dues and also required unions to report to members how dues are spent.

The measure was the last of six similar Republican-sponsored bills killed this year in the Democratic-majority legislature.

There was a heavily partisan flavor to this perennial discussion. Labor unions, such as the Colorado Education Association, are heavy supporters of Democratic candidates. Republicans think more union memberships would opt out of membership if it were easier to do so and would like to restrict unions’ ability to use part of dues for political contributions.