Robert Redding Jr., Wash. Times, Mar. 27
ANNAPOLIS — The House has passed a bill that would allow illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition, despite a study conducted for the Democratic-controlled chamber that showed most Marylanders oppose such a measure.
The unscientific study, obtained by The Washington Times, was paid for by Democrats in the General Assembly’s Montgomery County delegation.
The findings were compiled from questionnaires mailed to 30,000 Democratic, Republican and independent Maryland voters who were asked whether they supported granting illegal aliens “the lower in-state tuition rates available to U.S. Citizens and legal residents.”
Of the 903 total respondents, 462 said they did not support granting the lower tuition. It was an unscientific survey and did not compute a margin for error.
The survey also included questions about such key General Assembly issues as slot machines and health care.
House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve, Senate Deputy Majority Whip Jennie M. Forehand and Delegates Luiz R. S. Simmons and Michael R. Gordon, Montgomery Democrats, paid for the $8,000 study with campaign donations.
The delegates voted Thursday in favor of granting illegal aliens the benefit to receive in-state tuition to Maryland schools. The Senate has yet to vote.
The bill allows illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates as long as they have graduated from Maryland high schools, proven their families have paid taxes and promise to become U.S. citizens.
Mr. Barve said the study was initiated in January — as it has been for the last 10 years — and is meant only to give lawmakers an idea about what constituents think, not to dictate how the lawmakers should vote.
“It is more a vehicle to invite people to our town hall meeting so that we can listen to them,” he said.
Mr. Barve said he takes voter input seriously.
“I was probably voting against it until they changed the bill at the last minute and required that [the illegal aliens] pay taxes,” he said. “I listen to my constituents, but legislation changes as the session goes on.”
Mr. Barve also said he agrees with his constituents on a “vast majority” of issues and is confident that on election day “they are going to take my entire record and weigh it and balance it and decide whether they are going to vote for me.”
Republicans who have been fighting for more stringent laws on illegal immigration were outraged about how the Democrats voted.
“When you ask your constituents how they feel, and they tell you how they feel, and you vote opposite to that, it just tells you [the three delegates] do not respect their own constituents,” said Delegate Richard K. Impallaria, Harford Republican. “We are taking about the most liberal [county] in the state of Maryland and [the residents] don’t support in-state tuition for illegal aliens.”
Delegate Pat McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, said the Democrats who voted in favor of the tuition break were trying to win over Hispanic voters.
Mr. McDonough and Mr. Impallaria have been unsuccessful in their efforts to crack down on illegal aliens, which includes the defeat of a bill that would have allowed the incarceration of illegal aliens as soon as they are identified.
Three of the House’s 43 Republicans voted for the bill, which passed with a veto-proof 88-to-53 majority. Thirteen Democrats voted against the bill, which now goes to the Senate for final approval.
The General Assembly last year passed a similar bill, but it was vetoed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.
Mr. Ehrlich’s spokesman Henry P. Fawell said the governor is concerned about certain rights of citizens being extended to “non-citizens who are here illegally.”
“The governor is not enthusiastic about the overall message that this legislation sends,” he said.
House Republicans and Democrats put aside partisan differences yesterday long enough to give unanimous approval to Mr. Ehrlich’s $6 billion budget.
The budget has already passed the Senate, but there are numerous differences that must be resolved in the final 16 days of the 2004 General Assembly session.
The budget disagreements may not be difficult to work out, but negotiations between the two houses will be complicated by a major difference between the Senate and House on taxes and Mr. Ehrlich’s slot machine bill.
The House added a $670 million tax package to a second bill that will be required to keep the budget balanced without deep cuts in state services.
Mr. Ehrlich and the Senate proposed much more modest revenue measures, and the governor has said he would veto the bill if it contains the House tax package.