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 the signing ceremony.
“We’ve got guts,” said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), a longtime advocate for the bill. “We were willing to go against the tide and stand up for something that is the right thing to do.”
The in-state tuition legislation was one of more than 200 bills the governor signed into law in a marathon session Tuesday. Among the others was a measure intended to create reliability standards for electric companies in response to extended power outages Pepco customers experienced last winter. Another creates a prescription-drug monitoring program aimed at curbing the state’s fastest growing drug problem.
In a boon to wine aficionados and vineyards in Maryland, O’Malley (D) also backed legislation that will allow residents to have their favorite bottles of wine shipped directly to their doorsteps.
It was the tuition bill, however, that had the most contentious road to passage and that will remain the source of political debate in the weeks ahead.
Sponsors had worked for years to pass legislation that would allow illegal-immigrant students to continue their education by paying lower in-state rates. Former Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (D) vetoed one version in 2003, and the measure this year was a tough sell even among some Democrats because of concerns about competition for a limited number of slots for residents.
In a compromise, sponsors rewrote the bill during the General Assembly session that ended last month to direct 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.
Students must have attended a Maryland high school for three years before graduating, must provide proof that their parents are state taxpayers and must express their intent to become a citizen.
After signing the bill, O’Malley said students whose families have been residents and paid taxes for many years “should not have additional barriers put up. It’s bad enough that we have a dysfunctional immigration system.”
Juan Lopez, a community college student from Hyattsville who attended the ceremony, said the change in law would make a four-year school affordable and allow him to “finally see my dream” of becoming a business administrator.
Maryland joins at least 10 other states, including California and New York, that allow illegal-immigrant students to pay in-state tuition rates. But the national trend is toward eliminating such breaks, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Virginia, lawmakers have tried to go further, proposing to block illegal immigrants from attending state colleges.