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HB7 may include a reprieve

A revised bill would have no impact on current undocumented students

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State Rep. Glenn Donnelson is looking at amending his bill to repeal a law that gives undocumented students the ability to pay in-state tuition, so that those students already enrolled under the provision could remain in school.

"I think it's a good idea," said Donnelson, R-North Ogden. "It helps those in the system, and puts us on hold until the federal government helps us out."

The bill, HB7, would repeal a 2002 law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they've attended a Utah high school for at least three years and graduated.

The House Education Committee voted 9-5 to send the bill to the House floor, where it is awaiting a hearing.

A new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll suggests that a majority of Utahns agree with supporters of the measure, who say allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition is an unfair violation of federal law and puts Utah at risk for a lawsuit.

The poll of 415 Utahns found that 54 percent of Utahns opposed the tuition benefit, while 40 percent supported it. Six percent took no position. The poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, has a 5 percent margin of error.

In the 2004-05 school year, 169 students attended Utah colleges and universities under the law, according to the Utah System of Higher Education.

USHE officials say that if HB7 passes, undocumented students won't be able to enroll at all. Without the tuition law, they'd need a student visa to enroll and most probably wouldn't qualify for a visa, officials said.

Some 57 percent of those polled said the undocumented students should be allowed to attend a college or university. Some 38 percent said the students shouldn't be allowed to attend, and 4 percent said they didn't know.

A key argument for passing HB7 is the threat of litigation by students who are paying out-of-state tuition, while the undocumented students are given the in-state rate. The dismissal of a federal lawsuit against a similar Kansas tuition law is under appeal, and a state lawsuit has been filed in California. However, the Utah Attorney's General Office believes the state isn't breaking federal law by offering the tuition rate to undocumented students.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s deputy chief of staff, Mike Mower, said, "We have grave concerns with this bill; however, we have not seen a final and approved version."

Michael Clara, spokesman for the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, said his group is working to garner votes against HB7.

Clara said even with Donnelson's proposed amendment, the repeal seems shortsighted.

"We're looking at the future of our community, and I don't just mean the Hispanic community," he said. "It impacts everybody."

Clara said he expects a tight vote.

Supporters of HB7 have also been at the Capitol in force. Among those is Alex Segura, director of the Utah Minuteman Project, who said the poll shows "Utah citizens are exercising their rights and saying this isn't fair.

"The (tuition law) is not fair," he said. "So let's get it off the books and move forward."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com