Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire's bill granting in-state college tuition rates to U.S.-born children of parents living here illegally cleared a key hurdle Tuesday.
Following lengthy debate, Senate Finance Committee members approved the bill on a 10-1 vote.
The bill now goes to the Senate Calendar Committee where it will be scheduled for Senate floor consideration.
Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said the bill would apply to students who have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and graduated from an in-state high school.
Currently, the students have to pay out-of-state tuition to attend University of Tennessee or Tennessee Board of Regents institutions. That's because in-state tuition is granted to students whose parents are "domiciled" in Tennessee. But their parents who came to the United States without legal permission are not considered residents of the state.
Tuition for out-of-state students is nearly triple that of in-state students. Gardenhire said that's preventing many of the students, who are U.S. citizens, from attending college.
The companion bill is moving in the House as well.
Gardenhire and Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, have a second bill that would grant in-state tuition to undocumented students who have lived in Tennessee for at least five years and graduated from a state high school. That measure is having a tougher time in the Legislature.
Party loyalty bill dies
Meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Joe Carr, who is running against U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in the GOP's Senate primary, is blaming Alexander and Republican and Democratic state party officials for the failure of his bill aimed at discouraging crossover voting in party primaries.
Carr's bill died in a voice vote in the House Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
"When the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and Sen. Alexander are all against you, at that point you've got what we call a cool breeze blowing," Carr, R-Lascassas, later told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "It turned into a nor'easter."
As amended, the bill would have required anyone voting in a party primary election to "attest" by checking a box on the voter sign-in form, saying the party chosen "best represents" the voter's personal "values and beliefs."
State Republican Chairman Chris Devaney, state Democratic Chairman Roy Herron and Alexander have criticized the measure. With tea party backing, Carr is challenging Alexander in the Republican U.S. Senate primary. But Carr has maintained his bill was not directed at Alexander.
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said the bill encourages people to vote "not for the person of their choice" but "the party of their choice."
Carr said those refusing to sign the declaration would not be allowed to vote in that primary.
Dean questioned whether the bill would really accomplish anything, other than discouraging honest people from voting in a primary.
"They could still be dishonest ... so this wouldn't help," Dean said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.