Oregon tuition equity bill gets amended

Article author: 
Queenie Wong
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Article date: 
Friday, February 15, 2013
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
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Oregon lawmakers will have to wait until next week to advance a bill that would allow some students without immigration documents to qualify for in-state tuition.

On Friday, the House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development made a few changes to House Bill 2787, mainly clarifying what proof students would need to submit to show they intend to become a citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Proof would include an official copy of the student’s application to register with a federal immigration program, federal deportation deferral program or a statement of intent that the student will seek to obtain citizenship. Students would also need to show they have applied to become a taxpayer.

“We wanted to make sure that these are the students that are going to benefit from tuition equity, but felt that perhaps there was some looseness in the language that might cause unintended consequences,” said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, chairman of the education committee.

Since the bill was amended, lawmakers have to wait for a fiscal analysis on the new version of the legislation before they can vote on the bill.

House Republicans got some of what they wanted changed, but not all.

The amendments supported by Republicans did not include a statement of intent as part of how students could prove they intend to become a citizen or lawful permanent resident.

It also included a section that states a public university may not give admission preference to students who benefit from the bill over that of Oregon residents.

“House Bill 2787 doesn’t call for it or infer it but there can be and is a concern that in addition to offering in-state tuition the Oregon University System could considerably lower the bar for admission or create some sort of special exemption,” said Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River.

He said it was clear from hearing from minority students that they don’t want any kind of special academic treatment from the bill.

Dembrow said he would not support that amendment because the language is too vague and would set the state up for unintended consequences.

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Split by a vote along party lines, those package of amendments did not move out of committee. Some Republicans then voted for the alternative package of amendments after the ones they proposed failed.

Francisco Lopez, executive director of the immigration-rights group Causa Oregon, said both parties met each other half way.

“In the end, all those amendments became a bipartisan effort,” he said. “I think that tells you the level of quality of this conversation.”

One change lawmakers from both parties agreed on was providing an exception to the bill’s residency requirements for students who leave the state to serve in the U.S. military for more than three years.

Under the bill, the State Board of Higher Education is only allowed to offer in-state tuition to students that have received a high school diploma no more than three years before they enroll in a public university.

The Oregon University System estimates that about 38 students would take advantage of the opportunity to pay in-state tuition in the 2011-13 biennium and 80 students would use the program in 2015-17.

With more students paying in-state tuition and fees at Oregon public universities, the revenue impact would be about $334,820 for the 2011-13 biennium and $1.5 million for the 2013-15 biennium, according to the original bill’s fiscal statement.

OUS would report to the Legrickislature and presiding officers on the number of students that applied and the fiscal impact before July 1 of every year, under the amended bill.

“Of course, the idea is that we have opened the opportunity for any resident of the state of Oregon that wants to go to a public university,” Lopez said.

Lawmakers are expected to pass the bill out of the House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development on Monday.

It would then head to the House floor.