The Senate gave final passage to a bill Tuesday that will allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Connecticut colleges and universities.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford said the bill has a strict threshold compared to states that have already implemented similar legislation and requires undocumented students to attend a Connecticut high school for four years and sign an affidavit stating they are seeking citizenship before receiving in-state tuition.
And unlike four years ago when a similar bill was vetoed by then Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he will sign the legislation.
“This is something that ran on,” Malloy said Tuesday. “I believe that if you have Connecticut high school diploma you should be able to attend a Connecticut public institution at state rates, pretty straightforward.”
“This bill isn’t controversial, it’s common sense,” Malloy said in a statement following nine hours of debate. “At a time when we need to be helping our state’s young men and women prepare for an ever-changing economy and compete with their counterparts in China, Japan and elsewhere, helping to make a college degree more accessible and affordable for those students who choose to pursue one is critically important.”
The undocumented students who came to show their support for legislation agreed.
They stood outside the Senate chamber watching as the Senate debated a bill that will impact their futures and the future of all undocumented students who live in Connecticut.
Hafid Dumet, 25, said he’s been attending Western Connecticut State University for six years as a part-time student because he could never afford to take the full 15 credits at the out-of-state tuition rate.
He said even though he has one more year left before he graduates this legislation will help him spend his last semester as a full time student. But more importantly he said it will help other students, students afraid of coming “out of the shadows” to tell their story.
Lorella Praeli, who is also from Peru, originally came to the States for medical treatment for her right leg, which is amputated above the knee. Praeli graduated this month from Quinnipiac University which she attended on a scholarship. Her family originally came to the States on a tourist visa, then chose to overstay it about 11 years ago and settle down in New Milford. She was 11 years old at the time.
“Our presence is important because you don’t know we exist if you just read about us,” Praeli said. “It’s legislation like this that puts pressure on the federal government to take action and give us a path toward citizenship.”
She said by passing this legislation Connecticut becomes the 13th state to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.
The argument in the Senate was similar to the debate in the House of Representatives with Senators on both sides of the issue saying it’s not fair to legal citizens and could prove more costly to the state.
Several Republican Senators, who spoke out against the bill, believe it would be unfair to individuals in the state who have “followed the rules.”
“There is almost this notion that it is unfair for people who comply with this law to extend it to people who don’t,” said Sen. Kissel, R-Enfield.
The bill’s proponent, Bye, said that it comes down to students who just want access to the education and want to pay tuition, but they cannot afford out-of-state tuition.
Those who supported the bill noted these individuals under most circumstances are undocumented immigrants by no fault of their own, and they should not be held accountable.
“Lets not punish these children, lets give them the opportunity that has little cost to the state,” said Sen. LeBeau, D-East Hartford.
Opponents of the bill argued paying in-state tuition would be a benefit to students that could end up costing the state.
Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, noting the inconsistency of financial notes on bills, said this bill may not have a direct cost on the state now but in 10 to 15 years may end up costing the state because the bill may offer an incentive for undocumented immigrants to move to Connecticut in the future.
Bye believes there will be no impact because the students are willing and able to pay in-state tuition but are unwilling and unable to pay out-of-state tuition, so there is no lose in revenue because these undocumented students are not attending higher education in the state.
Earlier in the debate, Bye said in several states with similar legislation there has been increases in revenue, notably $2.3 million in Utah, $2 million in Massachusetts and more than $1 million in Colorado.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, opined that the bill is not a benefit. She used the tuition differences between in-state and out-of-state students at the University of Connecticut as an example saying that by allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition would be a nearly $10,000 benefit for those students.
Bye clarified the University of Connecticut noted there would only be two to four individuals a year who would meet the requirements of this bill and noted the Chancellor of the Connecticut State University System said he would not deny access due to space.
Several senators pointed to the issue that with the approximately 200 undocumented immigrants affected by this bill every year it may displace other qualified students.
Frantz said this bill may not affect the best student from the best high school, but the student who works really hard and wants to go to the University of Connecticut or another Connecticut state university but they are displaced by one of the undocumented immigrants.
Boucher noted the number of students could end up costing the state because they will no longer pay out-of-state tuition.
“Though the fiscal note doesn’t reflect this it only makes common sense that two or three hundred students who pay out-of-state tuition and are allowed to pay in-state tuition would cost the state with lost revenue,” Boucher said.
Republicans called 9 amendments and debate last for nine hours.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report.