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In-State Tuition Bill Stalls; Gov Encouraged By Utah Compact Bill

Source: Utah State Chamber of Commerce

By Jenny Brundin

Salt Lake City, UT – Immigration issues dominated yesterday's legislative debates on Utah's Capitol Hill. If fact, they were a big topic as well in Governor Gary Herbert's monthly news conference with reporters. Each day this session - lawmakers have lurched from one emotional immigration bill to next. In the end, what could result is passing a combination of bills that may make Utah unique in the nation. KUER'S Jenny Brundin reports.

Many of the bills calling for a tough stance on illegal immigration have sailed through the Utah House of Representatives. Cracking down on suspected undocumented immigrants pulled over for felony or class A misdemeanors. Cracking down on businesses who hire illegal workers. Strongly worded resolutions wagging a finger at the federal government for its inaction on immigration reform. But House lawmakers took up one yesterday that has for years been a much tough issue emotionally for many lawmakers - both liberal and conservative. This is how Representative Carl Wimmer framed the issue:

WIMMER: One of the key questions you are going to have to ask yourself is are you OK with $5.5 million of your constituents money going to subsidize illegal aliens going to college?

Utah is one of 10 states in the nation that allows undocumented students who've attended high school school here to pay in-state tuition. For the past few years, a narrow majority has beat back attempts to repeal the law. This year, bill sponsor Representative Carl Wimmer argued that the state is losing $5.5 million dollars a year on the 640 undocumented students in Utah colleges now. Here are some excerpts from yesterday's debate - starting with Representative Carol Spackman Moss.

MOSS: This is a bill that would do enormous harm to a group of college students who did nothing wrong and everything right. They studied hard; they worked part-time jobs to save for college. They participated in school, community and religious activities. And then when they were getting ready to prepare and apply for college, found out that many of them, their parents, did not have citizenship. So this is more than tax policy. It's not a tax issue; it's a human issue and a societal issue.

Representative Fred Cox:

COX: I watched a young man grow up. I watched him find out that he'd be able to get a reduced rate for college. I watched him graduate from college. I watched him realize that he couldn't work using the education he got because of the system that we currently have in place. This discount provides false hope for many of these individuals.

Representative Brian King:

KING: When I look at this bill and I think about what we're doing and I think about some of the other things we're doing on immigration, I ask myself, are we really past feeling? Have we lost a sense of compassion and humanity for these folks that we're talking about? We've got to be careful. We've got to be careful that insisting that the law be applied inflexibly.

Representative Christopher Herrod:.

HERROD: I have a friend that's from Colombia. One of the poorest nations in the world, who's been in this country five years. But he is on a legal student visa but he's not eligible for in-state tuition. His host family over those five years. His host family over those five years, has spent an extra $20,000 dollars because he's not entitled to in-state tuition. Where's the compassion for that individual?

Republican Representative Ryan Wilcox - House sponsor of a resolution strongly urging Congress to find a solution to the immigration crisis - told his colleagues that 60 to 70 percent of Hispanic students in his district drop out of Ben Lomand High School in Ogden.

WILCOX: The handful of kids who made it through Ogden in Ben Lomand High School with good enough grades to get into college, are not the problem. We need these kids, this little handful of the community, to become part of the solution for that community because in the end, they are us.

After an hour of debate, House Bill 191 stalled after a 38 to 36 vote to amend the bill to require students to pay income tax in the year before they enroll in college. They'll be some arm-twisting and the bill will come up again. Some House lawmakers have spent months crafting their individual immigration bills. Jaws dropped this week when a Utah Senator swooped in with a bill that melds many of those thorny issues: enforcement, guest worker provisions, in-state tuition into one bill. Representative Stephen Sandstrom, doesn't like it one bit.

SANDSTROM : I'm opposed to an omnibus bill. I think that's D.C. style politics that people do not like.

House immigration bills like Sandstrom's are now being bottled up in the Senate Rules committee. The Senate has engaged in this strategy before, prompting this from House Speaker Becky Lockhardt.

LOCKHART: It doesn't make it right.

But Governor Gary Herbert told reporters in his monthly news conference that he's encouraged by the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill.

HERBERT: What I've heard about it I think incorporates my six principles and the Utah Compact principles and I think that's certainly moving in the right direction. I'm encouraged by what I hear.

The Utah Compact consists of five principles put forth by the business community, religious leaders and others to guide the immigration debate. They include respect for the law, keeping families together, and acknowledging the economic role migrants play. The bill's guest worker permit would require a federal waiver, making it the first of its kind in the nation. Some say that's a long shot. And up on Utah's Capitol Hill - with a week and half to go - negotiation on a final immigration bill or bills will be fast and furious. Democratic Representative Brian King.

KING: We're a long ways from home, in terms of where we as a legislature end up on the immigration issue. And we'll just see what happens.

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