Legislature finally finds a measure to agree on
by John Stang
Sen. Barbara Bailey, center, chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee. With are committee members Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (left) and Sen. Randi Becker Credit: Photo: Allyce Andrew
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus made the first major move to compromise in the state Legislature's 2014 session. That caused 19-year-old Dulce Siguenza to break down in tears.
Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and several coalition members announced Thursday that they will no longer oppose the DREAM Act, and introduced their own version of the legislation to help students brought here by undocumented immigrant parents. The coalition legislators also are proposing to spend $5 million to help put it into action.
At a press conference, Siguenza described her joy at the prospect of finally being able to apply for state financial aid to return to the University of Washington. Her parents moved from Mexico to Seattle eight years ago, and after high school, she enrolled as a freshman to study psychology at the University of Washington. After one year, she had to transfer to South Seattle Community College because she could no longer afford UW's tuition. She was not eligible to apply for state financial aid but Bailey's bill would make her and other children of undocumented immigrants eligible.
At the press conference, Siguenza was briefly overcome by her emotions and cried before regaining her composure. "I had to leave my dream university — the University of Washington. South Seattle is OK. But I will always be a Husky. … This bill will give me that opportunity," she said.
For the entire 2013 session and almost three weeks of this session, Democrats had tried to get the majority coalition — currently 24 Republicans and two Democrats — to take a floor vote on the bill, which would cover young people who have graduated from high schools in the state. Some of the coalition's moderates also supported the bill, but had been unwilling until now to break with the caucus' conservative wing to allow a floor vote. In the House, the bill easily passed with bipartisan way support last year and again earlier this month.
Bailey said some coalition members still don't support the bill. Bailey, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, had been a leading opponent of the DREAM Act until Thursday when she introduced the majority coalition's bill to implement it. Her bill and the House bill are similar, but Bailey's bill includes a $5 million appropriation to pay for the college aid for the extra students. Bailey said the idea of the added $5 million to pay for the extra students caused her to change her mind on the issue.
The bill would add $5 million to the current $267 million college aid pool to which 32,000 students can apply for aid. The Washington high school graduates of undocumented immigrant parents would become part of the pool. The extra money will not be specifically earmarked for those newly eligible students, but those students will be allowed to apply for aid from the pool. It hasn't been calculated how many new students would receive aid, or what amounts they would be eligible to receive. The source of the extra $5 million also has to be hashed out between the Senate and House's budget negotiators.
Bailey said the House bill and her bill will skip the Senate hearing process and likely go directly to full floor votes on Friday. Standing in support of Bailey's bill at Thursday's press conference were coalition leader Sen. Rodney Tom, D- Medina; Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R- Ritzville; Sen. Steve O'Ban, R-Pierce County; Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island; Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee; Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn; and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond. Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Most of that group could be considered part of the Republican-dominated coalition's moderate wing.
Democratic representatives and senators sent out several press releases praising Bailey's bill. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle said she was thrilled for students who had worked to pass the bill.
"I’m pleased that after a year and a half of hard work by students, stakeholders and people from all across our state, Senate Democrats will finally have the opportunity to vote for the DREAM Act, " said Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island. "People from all across our state have worked hard and waited a long time for this moment. This is wonderful news for the hard-working students who will finally have the same access to financial aid that their peers have always had."
For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Under the Dome page.