By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
House Republicans who wanted to roll back a two-year-old ban on in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants have abandoned their plan to expand a Senate bill covering a much smaller group of students.
Backers of the effort said there wasn’t enough support for what has become a political hot potato in the ongoing debate over immigration reform.
“I’m terribly disappointed,” said Republican Rep. Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse, who wanted to repeal what she’s called an overly punitive law. After it went into effect in 2011, hundreds of students dropped out of college because they couldn’t afford the much higher out-of-state rate.
“The important thing is, I did not want the (current) bill to die,” Kubacki said. “I didn’t want it derailed. Sometimes you take what you can get.”
On Thursday, Senate Bill 207 passed through a second reading by the House with only one amendment.
As is, the bill only rolls back the 2011 ban for students who were enrolled in college when the law went into effect. It also clears the way for U.S. military veterans who move to Indiana to pay the much cheaper in-state rate at Indiana’s public universities.
The bill has to go to a final vote in the House, but can’t be amended.
Kubacki, the first Hispanic Republican in the Indiana General Assembly, wanted to broaden the language of Senate Bill 207 to include children who met the new federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. That policy stops the deportation of immigrant children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally.
She had the support of Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and Republican House Education Chairman Bob Behning, but apparently not enough support from others in the Republican-controlled legislature. House Republicans discussed the issue during a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday but there was no debate on the House floor.
Behning said Senate Bill 207, as is, “is the first step. There’s always next year.”
Behning said he doubted the Senate, which passed the limited language in the current bill, would support an expanded bill. The Republican Senate authors of the bill, Jean Leising of Oldenburg and Carlin Yoder of Middlebury, had expressed the same concerns.
Opponents of Senate Bill 207 have been the flooding phone lines and email inboxes of legislators. A group called IFIRE (Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform & Enforcement) argue that students who aren’t U.S. citizens have no right to the lower tuition rates.
The author of the 2011 law, Republican Rep. Mike Karickhoff of Kokomo, has moved on the issue in part. He said he supports the current language of Senate Bill 207, that covers the several hundred students enrolled in college when the ban went into effect. But he also blames the federal government for lack of action.
“I think the number of students affected by the bill highlights the gravity of the situation, and hopefully this will encourage the federal government to take a closer look at how long they’ve let this problem grow,” Karickhoff said in a statement.
“As long as this legislation is what’s best for Hoosiers, I will support it.” he said. “If it will benefit our economy and not hurt our citizens, I see no problem in allowing those already enrolled in college in Indiana to be grandfathered in with resident tuition. Hopefully our federal government will address this national problem.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.