In the Senate, Dream Act remains the stuff of dreams

Guest Opinion: Despite his claims of bipartisanship, Sen. Rodney Tom is blocking a bill with wide bipartisan support.
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Guest Opinion: Despite his claims of bipartisanship, Sen. Rodney Tom is blocking a bill with wide bipartisan support.

All Washingtonians might be created equally, but they are not treated equally.

Many immigrant students were brought here as children by parents who entered the country illegally. It wasn’t the children’s doing, but it is nevertheless their reality. They aren’t here because they want to take from us, but because they want to contribute. The American flag is the flag to which they pledge allegiance.

They’ve grown up here, they’ve paid taxes here and the hard work of many of their families has made our state’s agricultural system one of the strongest in the world. Their aspiration is to become productive members of our communities and reach for the American dream along with everyone else. But there’s a problem.

While many of these students work hard, excel in school and strive to go on to college, they face a harsh reality. Like many Washingtonians, they find the rising cost of higher education increasingly beyond their means. But unlike other Washingtonians, they are ineligible for State Need Grants. These young dreamers are being penalized simply because their parents were undocumented immigrants.

The Washington Dream Act would change that. This legislation would make all deserving students eligible for State Need Grants and able to pursue the opportunity to realize their full potential in education and in life.

The Dream Act has strong support in both chambers of the Legislature. The House passed it with a strong bipartisan majority of 77-20, including votes from 22 Republicans. The bill has majority support in the Senate as well, where a solid bipartisan majority of senators say they will vote for it. There’s just one catch: Despite its support on both sides of the aisle, the Dream Act has been blocked in the Senate by the Republican majority.

It’s not unusual for a caucus to kill a bill. What’s unusual in this case is that the bill has strong bipartisan support on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers, including the endorsement of the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Rodney Tom. What’s more, there are 10 members of the 25-member Senate majority caucus whose seatmates in the House voted for the bill.

This bill is the kind of bipartisanship that Sen. Tom claimed his majority caucus would champion. But rather than move a popular bipartisan bill forward, his caucus has twice blocked our efforts to bring it to the floor for a vote — with his complicity.

Meanwhile, in a series of accusations that don’t even pass the chuckle test, Sen. Tom has said Democrats are to blame for the bill’s failure to move forward. It’s astounding to think that the most powerful member of the Senate blames the failure to pass a bill he claims to support not on the committee chair whom he appointed, and who has refused to put the bill to a vote, but on Democrats who support the bill and would vote for it.

Sen. Tom’s primary responsibility is to the people of Washington, not the members of his caucus or their political agendas. And the people — in this case, students across our state — need more from Sen. Tom than rhetoric and excuses.

When he accepted the position of majority leader, Sen. Tom assumed the top leadership role in the Senate. After an entire legislative session and with a special session to come, we’re still waiting for him to shoulder the responsibility that goes with it.

Sen. Ed Murray is the Senate Democratic Leader and the primary sponsor of The Washington Dream Act. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Higher Education Committee and the lead co-sponsor of the bill.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jeanne Kohl-Welles

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles represents the 4th Council District.