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Bill to create special tuition for ‘dreamers’ stalls in Senate

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A bill that would allow DACA recipients to attend Arizona universities for less than the cost of out-of-state tuition stalled over Republican objections that the measure violates the will of the voters.

At least for one week, the Senate rules committee rejected a proposal to direct the Arizona Board of Regents and community college governing boards to create a new tuition rate, one that would apply to anyone that graduated from an Arizona high school.

The rate would apply to graduates who don’t meet the residency requirements to qualify for in-state tuition – a description that includes immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and even undocumented students who attended Arizona high schools. While costlier than in-state tuition, the measure would provide some reprieve from paying the expensive out-of-state tuition rates at Arizona universities.

HB2186 appeared to have all the support it needs, including Senate President Karen Fann’s.

The Prescott Republican, who also serves as the rules committee chair, has already voted for the measure once before – the Senate approved a different version of the bill in February, but that version was blocked by House Speaker Rusty Bowers. It was revived with an amendment to HB2186 in the Senate health committee last week.

Instead, Fann sided with her Republican colleagues on the committee and voted to hold the bill.

Her decision followed objections from Sen. Eddie Farnsworth. The Gilbert Republican disagreed with the legal opinion of the Senate’s rules attorney, who told the committee the bill was constitutional and did not necessarily run afoul of Proposition 300, the voter-approved law denying DACA students access to in-state tuition.

That’s because Prop. 300 specifically states that the non-residents aren’t eligible to receive a subsidized higher education, a distinction Fann supported in the rules committee.

As long as ABOR and community college boards set a new tuition rate that reflects the actual cost of educating a college or university student, DACA students or undocumented Arizona high school grads won’t be recieving a subsidized education, Fann said.

“All (Prop. 300) said was, we cannot subsidize,” she said.

Farnsworth argued that logic violates the will of the voters that approved Prop. 300. To Farnsworth, attending Arizona colleges or universities for anything less than the out-of-state tuition rate – a price that university officials acknowledge is well higher than the actual cost of a university education – would be a discount for those students.

Farnsworth and Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, requested that the bill be held.

But Democrats, aware of Fann’s support, recognized that math was on their side. Combined with the Senate president, there’d be four votes in favor of advancing the bill from the rules committee.

Instead, Fann voted with her Republican colleagues after Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada made a motion to approve HB2186.

“Don’t put me in a box like that,” Fann told the three Democrats on the committee after the vote.

HB2186 can still be voted out of the rules committee at a later date. After that, it’d need the approval of the full Senate, as well as a vote on the House floor.

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