Capital Notebook

CAPITAL NOTEBOOK

February 21, 2007

Immigrant students support tuition bill

Sharing their stories of education deferred, a panel of immigrant students urged state lawmakers yesterday to pass a bill that would allow them to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges.

For many illegal immigrants who graduate from Maryland high schools, college remains out of reach because they are required to pay the more expensive out-of-state tuition, immigrant advocates told legislators at a House of Delegates hearing.

"In some cases, these kids are at the top of their graduating class, and yet they get to a point where they can't afford to go to school and achieve the American dream," said Del. Victor R. Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat who sponsored the bill.

Out-of-state students pay as much as three times more than Maryland residents to attend state schools. At the University of Maryland, College Park, the out-of-state rate proposed for fall 2007 is $22,208, while Maryland residents would pay $7,969.

Officials with the University System of Maryland support the measure, although they are pushing for an amendment that would require eligible students to prove they have been Maryland residents for at least a year before applying to a state college.

System Chancellor William E. Kirwan said while he understands that bill opponents do not want to aid illegal immigrants, the measure would benefit the state as a whole.

"We need a highly educated work force, and it is certainly in our state's best interest for these individuals to have a college degree," Kirwan said.

Del. Ron George, an Anne Arundel Republican, said students should first establish legal residency before becoming eligible for in-state tuition. "We have laws, and I personally believe there are reasons for the laws," George said.

In 2003, the legislature passed a similar measure, but then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed it. Advocates said they hope it will pass this year. Gov. Martin O'Malley voiced his support for the measure during his campaign for governor.

Kelly Brewington

Gov. to testify on death penalty

Gov. Martin O'Malley will testify against the death penalty today before two legislative committees, throwing the weight of his office behind a legislative proposal to repeal capital punishment.

O'Malley has said he believes the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime and that it costs the state too much money. His appearance could give the bill's sponsors a needed boost as they work to swing votes in their favor. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee appears deadlocked, with Sen. Alex X. Mooney, a Frederick Republican, as the potential swing vote.

The House Judiciary Committee also will hear from O'Malley today.

Before the governor testifies, advocates for the repeal and former death row inmates who have been exonerated will speak about the system's failures during an Annapolis event held by Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

The Maryland Court of Appeals effectively imposed a moratorium on state executions in December, when it ruled that the procedures governing the administration of lethal injections must be reviewed by the legislature.

Jennifer Skalka

More support for tobacco tax

Drug treatment advocates threw their support yesterday behind a $1 increase in the tobacco tax to $2 a pack, which has been proposed in the General Assembly to pay for an expansion of health care coverage for the uninsured and other programs.

Officials with Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., a nonprofit that oversees the city's drug and alcohol services, said they need an additional $15 million for heroin treatment and to expand the capacity of halfway houses. Several pending bills would allocate $30 million of a tobacco tax increase - which would raise more than $200 million in the first year - to substance abuse programs statewide.

The tobacco tax increase is backed by House Speaker Michael E. Busch but faces opposition from Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.

Laura Smitherman

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