NASHVILLE - Rep. Richard Floyd says he delayed a subcommittee vote on his bill allowing in-state students in the U.S. illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at Tennessee public colleges because he was short a vote.
But the Chattanooga Republican said that given the slimness of the margin, he believes he can eventually win enough support to move his "Tuition Equality" bill forward.
"Well, I got to counting votes in there," Floyd said Tuesday after delaying a vote on the measure in the House Education Subcommittee. "Last week I believe I could have gotten it out. But it just was not going to get out today. We're going to try to work on it. I think we lacked but one vote today."
The bill requires the students to meet academic standards and have spent at least five years in a Tennessee school and graduated from high school.
Sixteen-year-old Julisa Santillan, of Chattanooga, hopes Floyd's bill succeeds. The Red Bank High School student said her parents brought her to the U.S. when she was only a 2-year-old toddler.
"Right now, when I grow up I want to be a teacher," said Santillan, who came to the Legislature on Tuesday with dozens of other students in hopes of seeing the House bill clear its first hurdle. "And right now, students in college are paying three times more [in out-of-state tuition] than the students who are born right here.
"I want to be a teacher and I want to afford college and pay the same rate," said Santillan, whose favorite subject is math.
In a Republican-dominated Legislature where bills targeting undocumented immigrants proliferated just a few years ago, the fact the bill is even getting discussion is a remarkable turn around, advocates say.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said he supports the bill and noted it would apply only to students who've lived in Tennessee at least five years.
"It's better to have educated kids than uneducated kids," McCormick said. "It not only helps them with their future, I think it helps our economy and everyone in Tennessee if we have a better educated population."
The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.
Last month, the same panel approved a related Gardenhire bill. It grants in-state tuition rates to U.S.-born children whose parents came to the U.S. illegally.
Gardenhire argued when presenting that bill that if anything else, lawmakers should vote yes on such legislation from a "pure greed function." He cited statistics showing college-educated children of undocumented immigrants earn more and pay far more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.
At least 19 other states have enacted similar legislation to the bill sponsored by Floyd and Gardenhire, said Eben Cathey with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.