Immigrant college-aid bill now backed by the state Senate
Both the state Senate and House have now passed bills that would provide financial aid to students brought into the country illegally as children. Now lawmakers are squabbling over what to call the legislation.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Now that lawmakers agree students brought here illegally as children should be eligible for financial aid, the next fight could be over who takes credit for the idea.
The GOP-led state Senate on Friday passed the “Real Hope Act,” by a 35 to 10 vote, which would allow college financial aid for the students, if they meet certain conditions. The Democratically controlled House passed nearly identical legislation earlier this session. They call it the “Dream Act.”
The two parties volleyed their preferred monikers for the legislation so much Friday that GOP Sen. Barbara Bailey, of Oak Harbor, tried to put a stop to it.
“Just a point of clarification — and I think this is really important — this act is the Real Hope Act. No more dreams. This is real hope,” Bailey, prime sponsor of the Senate Bill 6523, said during debate.
Political leaders likely will wrangle for a few days over which bill will end up on the governor’s desk.
Senate Republicans want their bill to become law. Democratic Rep. Zack Hudgins, prime sponsor of the House bill, said he ultimately just wants it to pass.
“Some members would start a fight about this, and there needs to be some negotiating done. But I want the policy, and I think that’s the biggest thing,” he said.
There’s still some head scratching over why the GOP-led caucus in the Senate suddenly changed its mind about the bill.
When asked about the financial-aid bill at the beginning of the session, Bailey, chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said, “I think we have a lot of things that take priority over this.”
That was their caucus position last year as well. Then on Thursday, the caucus made a surprise decision that the legislation would be one of the first bills passed by the state Senate this year.
The general response by the majority caucus was that it wasn’t a sudden decision. They’ve been mulling it for a while and wanted to make sure funding was available — the measure that passed Friday includes a $5 million appropriation.
About 74,000 students currently receive State Need Grants, and an additional 32,000 eligible students were turned away last year because of a lack of funding. It’s not clear how many more students would become eligible under this bill.
The caucus was also being lobbied hard by students and advocacy groups who support the legislation.
Ricardo Sanchez, with the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, said he thinks a visit by 50 students from Bailey’s district a couple of weeks ago might have played a role.
One of the students, he said, cried while talking about coming here at age 3 and finding out in her senior year that she didn’t qualify for financial aid. Bailey started telling the students about her early life “and pretty soon she’s in tears, talking to the kids and saying ‘I really care about you.’ This was a real seminal moment I think,” Sanchez said.
Asked about the meeting, Bailey said she was moved by many stories, but reiterated the important thing for her was providing funding for the measure so students already eligible for financial aid would not be affected.
Whatever the reason, key members of the GOP caucus stand to benefit politically if the measure becomes law.
Chris Vance, a former chairman of the state Republican Party notes that GOP Sens. Andy Hill, of Redmond, and Joe Fain, of Auburn, are up for re-election this year “in very moderate suburban districts. They are probably saying to their more-conservative colleagues, we need a yes vote on this.”
He noted that House Republicans in Congress also are loosening up on immigration reform. “There’s so much pressure building up over immigration reform, it’s really hard to say no,” he said.
Republicans currently hold a narrow 26-to-23 majority in the state Senate because Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon caucus with the GOP. The party can’t afford to lose seats in the election.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter@ awgarber. Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.