Two weeks ago, on the first day of this year's legislative session, the Democratic house passed the DREAM Act, which makes kids of undocumented parents eligible for state financial college aid. It was a direct challenge to the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus; the MCC had blocked the bill when the house first passed it last year.
Today, however, the GOP relented: five Republicans and the MCC leader, state Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), introduced a DREAM Act bill of their own, which comes with $5 million in funding. (The Democratic version does not include any funding; though, it's not clear what the GOP will cut from the general fund.)
Parallel legislation—also mirroring recent Democratic legisation, introduced earlier this week—would make it easier for military personnel to get college aid as well.
The MCC said they could pass the bills as soon as tomorrow.
One of the co-sponsors, moderate Microsoft suburban Republican Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), chair of the senate education committee, said: "Closing the opportunity gap in our K-12 system is my primary focus so that all students, regardless of their ZIP code, can succeed in college and career. The logical next step is making college accessible for all students. ... Students who may not have been born in Washington, but were raised here and attended our state’s K-12 schools, are Washingtonians; they deserve equitable opportunities to access Washington’s higher-education institutions.”
It's yet to be seen if other social issues the MCC blocked in 2013—the Reproductive Parity Act and (another bill that's important to Latinos) legislation to undo discrimination at the polls which the house also passed again this year—will get a vote in the senate too.
But in a series of gleeful press releases, Democrats in the seante hailed the move. The leader of the Democratic minority in the senate, Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34, W. Seattle) said: “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. Each child should have the opportunity to fulfill his or her dreams. Opening the door to college for all our kids is the right thing to do."
But the Democrats also slyly took some digs at the Republicans for coming late to the party.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell) ender her statement this way: “I am glad to have a chance to vote on this important measure and I’m happy that our Republican colleagues have decided to join the 19 Democrats who sponsored the Dream Act in the Senate last year in support of this bill.”
And Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) added: “I’m glad the majority has now decided to bring the Dream Act forward for a vote. [Seattle] Mayor Ed Murray, who sponsored the bill in the Senate last year, along with virtually the entire Democratic Caucus [has] been steadfast in pushing this legislation. I am glad these efforts are on the verge of becoming a reality.”
Politics aside—and certainly the MCC has deftly taken a wedge issue away from the Democrats, particularly in any effort on the moderate Eastside to defeat Sens. Tom and Hill this year—the reviews from civil rights groups was unanimous approval of the MCC's decision.
Rich Stolz, executive director for the immigrants' rights group OneAmerica, said this afternoon: "The real winners will be Washington State's economy and the students, who have worked tirelessly in the classroom—and as advocates—for an opportunity to pursue their American dreams."
I have a call in to the house sponsor, Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11, Renton) who actually tipped me on the development earlier in the day with an excited email noting the MCC announcement for an afteroon press conference. "See this?" he emailed quickly.
UPDATE: Hudgins told me late in the day: "Barbara [sponsor, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-10, Oak Harbor, the chair of the senate higher ed committee] wouldn't let it out of her committee last year, and now she's a sponsor. This is great news for the state."
Sen. Bailey released a statement this afternoon putting a focus on the military aspect of the legislation and on the funding; she said the Democrats blocked the military legislation last year and failed to fund the DREAM Act. (Of course, the higher-ed funding that the GOP takes credit for was made possible by a Democratic push to close a telecommunications industry tax break and an estate tax loophole last year.)
However, Sen. Bailey said:
“This is a reform that will raise access to higher education and change lives. For the military veterans facing out-of-state tuition rates and the 32,000 students on a wait-list for state need grants, it’s an approach they can trust – something they haven’t found anywhere else in the Legislature.
“The House majority blocked in-state tuition for veterans this past year – and what is their ‘Dream’ Act really worth to undocumented students when the funding is just a dream, too? This approach puts real money behind a real promise."