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ASSET bill headed to governor

The Colorado House this morning gave 40-21 final approval to Senate Bill 13-033, the measure making undocumented students eligible for resident tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

Sen. Mike Johnston (upper left) and Rep. Crisanta Duran (lower right) celebrate with ASSET supporters.
Sen. Mike Johnston (upper left) and Rep. Crisanta Duran (lower right) celebrate with ASSET supporters.

The vote marks the end of a decade-long fight by bill supporters to implement a policy similar to those in effect for years in such Republican-leaning states as Utah and Texas.

“The journey has finally come to a conclusion,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, who was one of a long parade of Democrats who came to the microphone to make last speeches of support for the bill.

“These Colorado youth have never lost hope … because theirs is the American spirit,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

Two freshmen Republicans, Rep. Polly Lawrence of Littleton and Rep. Lori Saine of Dacono, both argued that the bill offers “false hope” to immigrant students who won’t be able to legally work after graduation.

But Salazar said, “There is no false hope in Senate Bill 33.”

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said the bill “sends a very clear message to the students … that the state of Colorado believes in your potential.”

Supporters of the bill have argued that the policy is a matter of fairness for students who were brought to the U.S. as young children and have lived here most of their lives. Proponents also believe the bill will bring in additional tuition revenue for colleges and universities and help raise the education level of the state’s workforce.

Non-resident tuition, which undocumented students have to pay now, generally is three times resident rates, a significant barrier for many students.

The tuition issue has been unavoidably entangled in the politics of immigration, with most Republicans and some Democrats opposing the idea the first several times it was proposed. Variations of the plan, such as in-between tuition rates, were proposed – unsuccessfully – in efforts to gain support.

A version of the bill likely would have passed on the House floor last session with one Republican vote, but the GOP leadership ensured that it was killed in committee. Passage of the ASSET bill this year was considered assured after Democrats took control of both houses in the November 2012 elections.

The idea also gained support last year after President Obama issued an executive order potentially making it easier for such students to gain residency. Also last year, the Metro State University trustees got tired of waiting and instituted their own policy to reduce costs for undocumented students.

Three Republicans voted for the bill on final passage, Reps. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen, Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff of Pueblo and Kevin Priola of Henderson.

Gov. John Hickenlooper Tweeted his congratulations to ASSET supporters after the vote.

To be eligible for resident tuition students must have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduation or have 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.

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