Effort to repeal Maryland tuition law advances

Organizers of an effort to repeal a Maryland law granting college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants have collected enough signatures to continue their push to put the issue to a statewide vote.

An ongoing tally posted Tuesday morning on the State Board of Elections Web site showed that 21,919 signatures had been validated, exceeding the 18,579 that were needed by the end of May for the petition drive to carry on.

Opponents of the new law have until June 30 to collect 55,736 valid signatures — or 3 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. If they succeed, the new law will be put on hold and a statewide referendum will be held on the issue in November 2012.

More than 30,000 signatures submitted by the group MDPetitions.com from the first batch remain to be inspected by local election officials. About 85 percent of the signatures that were submitted have been accepted. State election officials said they will continue to post updates as counting continues.

The law, signed last month by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and set to go into effect July 1, would allow students who are illegal immigrants to pay the lower in-state rates at the state’s colleges and universities. To be eligible, students must have attended a Maryland high school for three years, provide proof that their parents are taxpayers and express their intent to become a citizen. As part of a compromise, the law directs undocumented students initially to community colleges. Those who receive an associate’s degree are then eligible to transfer and pay in-state tuition at a four-year institution.

Supporters of the new law, including dozens of religious leaders, immigrant advocates, Democratic lawmakers and students, jammed the governor’s reception room at the State House in Annapolis to pose for photos and celebrate during last mont’s signing ceremony.

The last law petitioned to a statewide referendum was a 1992 measure ensuring that abortions could continue in Maryland. The referendum was on a law that set forth the terms under which abortion would be legal in Maryland in the event the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. The law was affirmed in the public vote.

Staff writer Ann E. Marimow contributed to this report.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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