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In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrant Students Bill Gets Initial Approval From Colorado House

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Undocumented immigrant students in Colorado are only one vote away from in-state tuition rates for public colleges.

For the first time ever in the state, a bill that would grant Colorado's undocumented students in-state college tuition was heard on the House floor and got initial approval from state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 33, which allows students who have attended a Colorado high school and have also attended at least three years of schooling in state to receive the in-state college tuition rate regardless of their legal status, already passed the full Senate and now waits for a third and final vote in the House which will likely happen Friday.

The bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper who has said he will sign it if it reaches his desk. “The governor and I support this bill because we want Colorado to have a strong economy,” Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said during testimony when the bill initially passed Senate committee in January.

Read the full text of the bill here.

"Today we've made history," bill sponsor Rep. Angela Williams (D-Denver) said during the hearing of the bill, Fox31 reported. "We need these students. Give them an opportunity to achieve the American Dream."

The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reports that each year there are approximately 1,500 high school graduates in Colorado without legal immigration status. And the first year this law takes effect about 500 of those will attend college for the first time generating millions in revenue for the state in the years following.

In February, the historic bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate which was not a surprise, but what was surprising is that it got its first-ever Republican support in the Senate when three GOP senators -- Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) -- voted in favor of the bill.

“This is a country where you’re supposed to be able to pursue happiness and I want the GOP to be the Grand Opportunity Party,” Brophy said, who in years past has only stood in opposition of similar bills like this, according to Fox31.

"I'm of the opinion that this is a very conservative idea," Crowder said, The Denver Post reports. Crowder also said that he believed the bill would cost taxpayers, but said that it was worth it.

“We’re a nation of immigrants,” state Sen. Hill said in January during the committee hearing, The Colorado Springs Gazette reported. "We’ve studied this for a while, and we’ve got to address the moral issues of our age.”

This year marks the seventh time Democrats have pushed for ASSET in the Legislature, or, "Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow."

It also follows a hotly debated move by Metropolitan State University of Denver which approved an unsubsidized tuition cut for undocumented immigrant students.

The college's board of trustees voted 7-1 to lower the out-of-state $7,992 per semester tuition rate to $3,358.30 per semester for undocumented, Colorado-educated students. In order to qualify, an undocumented student had to have attended an in-state high school for at least three years. In-state students currently pay $2,152 per semester.

"You are leading where the legislature has so far, not," State Sen. Pat Steadman said in support of the plan, referencing the ASSET bill that failed in the state's Legislature in 2012.

However, Attorney General John Suthers challenged the school when it approved the new tuition rate saying it was illegal and that only lawmakers can decide whether to provide that benefit to undocumented immigrants, The Associated Press reported in 2012.

Now, just a year later, it appears that Colorado lawmakers are very close to deciding to provide that benefit.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states currently have laws allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition after meeting specific requirements, and nine of them do not allow them the ability to receive state-funded financial aid.

This year's version of the ASSET bill (pdf) allows students to pay the same tuition rate as Colorado residents, provided that the student attends at least three years of high school education or completes their general equivalency diploma (GED) in Colorado and is accepted to an in-state college or university. Undocumented students would also have to submit an affidavit saying they have sought or will seek lawful status as soon as they are able.

Last year the bill passed the Senate only to die in the House on a party line vote.

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