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Colo. House Committee Passes ASSET Bill: SB-15 Would Give Undocumented Immigrants Lower College Tuition Rates

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A bill that would provide more affordable tuition rates -- rates closer to an in-state level, rather than the higher out-of-state level -- to Colorado's undocumented immigrant students was passed by the Colorado House Education Committee on Monday. This was a historic vote for the House which has defeated similar bills in the past.

After four hours of testimony from nearly two dozen witnesses, including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, both of whom supported the bill, SB-15 passed the House Education Committee narrowly on a 7-6 vote, According to Education News Colorado.

As he suggested he might do, the chair of the House Education Committee, Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs), switched his vote to support the bill and voted along with the six committee Democrats to advance the bill.

Read the entire bill here.

The Denver Post reports that the bill still faces potential defeat before the House Finance Committee, where it is headed next and is expected to die. If it passes the Finance Committee it still has to be approved by the House Appropriations Committee.

In early April, the bill passed in the Colorado Senate on a party-line vote, 20-14, with every Democrat in the Senate in favor of the measure and only Republican opposition.

The ASSET bill (SB-15), or Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow, would provide discounted tuition that is not as affordable as in-state tuition, but not as expensive as out-of-state tuition if the student who is an undocumented immigrant provides proof that they are seeking legal status. The discounted rate would only be available to students that attended at least three or more years of a Colorado high school and graduated or obtained a GED. Within 12 months of graduation or obtaining their GED, the student must then apply and be accepted into one of Colorado's colleges to be eligible for the lower rate.

Colleges would have the right to opt-out of creating the new lower tuition rate if they did not want to participate.

The Associated Press provides this example: if the legislation were to pass, an undocumented immigrant attending University of Colorado at Boulder would pay approximately $10,000 annually, compared to $8,000 annually for an in-state tuition paying student or nearly $30,000 annually for an out of state student.

Five previous attempts at passing this legislation have failed, according to CBS4. Just last April, a similar bill was killed by a 7-6 vote in a Republican controlled House, Education News Colorado reported in 2011. Republicans still have a majority in the House, but this new version of the bill has been modified to be more appealing to state Republicans and Democrats are hoping that these changes are enough get this legislation passed.

In an op-ed from January, The Denver Post made a strong case for why the bill should pass stating that most of these students were brought into this country as infants and those that are eligible have already succeeded academically. But they do raise one of the common critiques of the legislation and the larger challenge for undocumented immigrant students:

Critics make a valid point when they say that under current laws, these students won't be able to legally use their education to get a job in the United States. Their hope — our hope — is that Congress will finally take up comprehensive immigration reform and provide a path to legal status for these students and other undocumented immigrants who have a lot to offer to this country.

The bill definitely has its detractors who say that the lower tuition rate is rewarding illegal behavior. Sen. Nancy Spencer (R-Centennial) echoed these sentiments to CBS4 in no uncertain terms, saying, "The message is that it is okay to commit felonies in the United States."

Colorado is not alone in seeking more affordable tuition for undocumented immigrants attending college -- thirteen other states have already passed legislation that grants in-state tuition rates, however, the legislation remains controversial as shown recently while Texas Gov. Rick Perry was running for the GOP presidential nomination, he faced criticism over his support for Texas policy that grants undocumented immigrants in-state tuition rates.

WATCH the video above on the passing of SB-15 in the Colo. House [via 9News].

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