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Bill Repealing In-State Tuition for Undocumented Heads to Senate

A Senate committee has passed state Sen. Donna Campbell's bill to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students on to the full chamber with a party-line vote.

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A Senate committee has passed a bill to repeal in-state college tuition for undocumented students on to the full chamber with a party-line vote. 

The Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee took a speedy 4-3 vote on Wednesday, two days after 11 hours of emotional testimony on the contentious measure. 

The legislation, Senate Bill 1819 by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, repeals a 2001 provision — signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry — that allows some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Of the 176 people who testified on Monday night, only five were in favor of Campbell’s bill.

Witnesses that night ranged from undocumented immigrants who benefit from the law to Republicans who say the current policy makes sense economically. Tears were shed by several students and their supporters who said the current policy was essential to how far the undocumented students have advanced.

At one point, even Campbell became choked up after thanking an undocumented immigrant who testified that she was a victim of human trafficking. But in the end Campbell stuck to her guns and urged the committee to advance the measure.

“This bill is not about vilifying anyone; it’s just about policy,” she said. “I feel we need to direct our resources first and foremost to the legal residents of Texas. It’s not meant to harm anyone.”

It's unclear what the chances are for the bill's passage. The clock is ticking, with fewer than 60 days left in the current regular legislative session. And across the hall in the Capitol, there may not be much appetite for it; House Speaker Joe Straus, R- San Antonio, has said he thinks the current policy is good for Texas.

It's unknown when the full Senate could take up the measure, but supporters of the current policy aren't waiting. On Monday, former Republican state Rep. Carl Isett, a co-author of the 2001 bill, will join the Texas Association of Business's Bill Hammond and Juan Hernandez, a former aide to Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, at a news conference where they will reiterate their support for the in-state policy. 

Senate Democrats have called out their GOP counterparts for sending the bill to the Veteran Affairs Committee's border security subcommittee — instead of one on higher education or other state affairs. 

"I am aware that our Senate committees don't have jurisdictional statements, but common sense should prevail," state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said Monday. "There is not one single piece of evidence that suggest DREAMers pose a threat to the border or to Texas." 

Disclosure: The Texas Association of Business is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune.  A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here. 

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