But bill's future still unclear after Senate committee's 'no' vote
A DREAM Act-type bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrant students in Virginia to pay in-state tuition to state universities had a rough day Thursday as a Senate committee voted it down but a House of Delegates committee approved the measure.
The Virginia Senate Education Committee defeated the DREAM Act bill 8-7 Thursday. The House version of the bill was reported out of House subcommittee Wednesday, making it the first time in five years such a bill passed out of any committee.
The Senate measure failed along party lines, with the committee's eight Republicans voting against it. The 'no' vote could essentially kill the bill for this year because the committee would have to send it to the full Senate for a vote.
The bill's supporters, including Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield), made a passionate case for the bill.
"If you vote against it, you're just standing against the tide of history," Saslaw said.
But Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) wasn't as concerned with history as with whether or not students granted lawful presence in America were here legally.
"A simple read of this would suggest that these are illegally present," McWaters pointed out during the meeting.
Sen. Donald McEachin, who sponsored the Senate version of the DREAM bill, was disappointed after the early morning vote.
"I think it sends a very unfortunate message that Virginia's not yet ready for prime time when it comes to fair treatment of its children," said Sen. Donald McEachin (D) after the vote. "I'm disappointed that it broke down along party lines and I'm sad that the GOP hasn't yet opened up its heart to all of our children."
McEachin said that he hopes the failure of the measure will lead to more activism at the polls during the off-year 2013 election than usual.
"Because I think that Virginians need to send a message to our legislators that we're better than this … that we're going to embrace all of our children," McEachin said. "That those children who qualify for admission to our in-state university who live here, pay taxes here or their parents pay taxes here, ought to be eligible for instate tuition. It's only fair. Virginians — and Virginia — are better than this."
Tran Ngyen, who works with Virginia New Majority and is a supporter of the bill, isn't giving up hope on a DREAM Act for Virginia.
"I have to be hopeful that good policy will always prevail," she said. "This is a setback, but it's not a death knell."
The House version of the bill is still alive after clearing two committees, but the measure is now in the House Appropriations committee, where some fear it was sent to die. Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) says he will push to get the measure to a vote on the House floor.
"This has the votes to pass. We just need to have our hearing on the floor, and I know we can get this done for the first time ever in Virginia," he said. If the measure gets to the full House and passes, it could be revived in the Senate.