Undocumented tuition battle over?

By Katie Valentine, Staff Writer

A controversial bill that has failed in the Utah Legislature every year for the past six years has not been resubmitted, but Utahns for the American Dream are ready to lobby against the bill if it makes it to Capitol Hill this session.

Last year, H.B. 241, which would have repealed laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, was shot down again in a Senate committee. The 2009 legislative session has been predominately centered around budget cuts, but the bill could still be submitted.

“We are, of course, hopeful that such a repeal bill would not pass again this year,” said Theresa Martinez, associate vice president for academic outreach and a sociology professor. “We will certainly work to keep the existing law.”

Martinez works with Utahns for the American Dream and is waiting to see if another bill like H.B. 241 will come up in the 2009 session.

Undocumented students undergo a huge amount of stress during the legislative session each year because of the possibility of losing in-state tuition rights, Martinez said.

The bill has always been fairly contentious, said Rep. Bradley Daw, R-Orem.

Daw said he doesn’t support taking in-state tuition from undocumented students. Instead, he supports the idea of finding a way to help undocumented students become legal citizens.

“This is their home country,” Daw said. “They have acclimated to the culture here.”

The vision statement for Utahns for the American Dream advocates “that all Utah school students are given support and encouragement to reach their academic potential at all educational levels so that they may become productive workers, good citizens, and contributing members of society.”

The threat of having to pay out-of-state tuition for just one undocumented student would affect the rest of his or her family, said Jarred Martinez, staff research assistant for the U Office of Equity and Diversity.

“These are truly bread and butter issues affecting their lives, their families, little brothers and sisters,” Theresa Martinez said.

If undocumented students lose in-state tuition, they would not be able to go on without support from others, Jarred Martinez said.

“Out-of-state tuition is almost double in-state tuition,” he said. “It’s difficult for anyone.”

The legislative session has already been going on for three weeks and the deadline to submit a bill is March 9.

It is unusual for a bill to suddenly appear this late in the legislative session without a committee hearing and plenty of notice, Daw said.

Former Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, who sponsored the bill for the past six years, wasn’t reelected to serve in the Utah Legislature. The former bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, was not available for comment on whether or not she will re-introduce the bill this session.

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