State Senate OKs immigrant financial aid; local delegation split

Youths with years in state can qualify without legal status if House concurs

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County’s senators split on ‘Dream Act’

State senators representing Clark County were split on a bill that would expand financial aid for students who were brought to the state illegally.

Supporting the bill were Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. King’s district includes a portion of east Clark County.

Voting against the bill was Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, whose district dips into north Clark County, also voted no.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, was excused from voting. In an emailed statement, Benton said he would have voted no.

“I cannot support giving away taxpayers’ dollars to non-citizens when there isn’t enough money to fund the 32,000 citizens who qualify,” Benton said.

Senate Bill 6523 cleared the state Senate by a 35-10 vote. The bill requires students to have earned a high school diploma or equivalent in Washington and to have lived in the state for three years to receive aid. It now moves to the state House for consideration.

Earlier in January, the House approved its own bill that would allow students who live in Washington illegally to apply for financial aid. That measure also drew mixed votes from House members representing Clark County.

— Eric Florip

OLYMPIA — The Washington state Senate approved a measure Friday to expand college financial aid to include students who were brought to the state illegally as children.

Senate Bill 6523 passed on a 35-10 bipartisan vote and now heads to the House for consideration. The measure requires students to have received a high school diploma or equivalent in Washington and to have lived in the state for at least three years.

"The key to a good future is a good education," said Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, the chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee. "We want all who reside in Washington state to have a good education and a good future."

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said that the vote was a day that "children in the state have waited for."

"No one should have the doors closed to their dream university because they cannot get financial aid when they have grown up here," she said.

The chamber rejected a proposed amendment by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, to have the measure expire after four years, and which would have required students to have been granted temporary permission to stay in the U.S. under an Obama administration policy — known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The Senate measure, called the "Real Hope Act," is nearly identical to the so-called Washington Dream Act, House Bill 1817, which passed out of the House on a bipartisan vote on the first day of the legislative session last month. The measure expands state financial aid for college students in the country without legal status. The House version didn't identify a funding source for the measure, but the Senate proposal allocates $5 million through June 30, 2015, from the state's general fund to pay the financial aid under the state need-grant program.

The Senate measure was sponsored by Bailey, fellow Republican Sens. Joe Fain, Andy Hill, Steve Litzow, Bruce Dammeier and Majority Leader Rodney Tom, the Democratic leader of the predominantly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus. The caucus initially said the measure wasn't a priority but reversed course this week.

"This is really making sure all kids have the keys to hope, that all kids have the keys to opportunity, that all kids have the keys to the American dream," Tom said during the floor debate.

During the floor debate, Democrats referred to the measure as the Dream Act, while Bailey reminded the floor that the Senate measure was now called the Real Hope Act.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was in the Senate wings after the vote, didn't indicate a preference for one name over another, just saying that it was "a clear delight" that the measure passed.

"What is real hope is a real Washington kid getting a real college education," he said. "Any way that gets done is great. And it is going to get done."

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, who sponsored the House bill, said that the House is ready to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions and will talk about next steps in the coming days.

"This is one of our top priorities, and I'm glad the Senate decided to pick up the policy," he said.

If the bill is passed by the House and signed into law, Washington would become the fifth state in the country to approve state financial aid for college students illegally in the country. California, Texas, New Mexico and Illinois have passed similar legislation.

The Senate also approved, on a unanimous vote Friday, a measure that allows students who are National Guard members or on active military duty, as well as their spouses and children, to pay in-state resident tuition rates. That measure also heads to the House for consideration.