Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, has sponsored this bill since 2004. He argues that permitting people who live in this country illegally to pay in-state tuition is at odds with federal law. He worries that the state risks being sued by nonresident students who, as legal U.S. citizens, believe they should get the same break.
Donnelson's might be the most mean-spirited bill to fly out of the hopper in years.
First question: Since when did the free-wheelin', six-shootin' independent republic of Utah ever let fear of a lawsuit keep it from doing whatever it wanted? The list of cases where Utah thumbed its nose at established law is longer than your arm and mine together.
In the late '70s, we had the Sagebrush Rebellion, when a bunch of ranchers vowed to wrestle control of Utah's open lands from the federal government. They wouldn't take no for an answer, by golly. Last I heard, the BLM still manages most of that disputed territory.
There was that go-round in the '90s seeking to ban public high schools from allowing gay-straight alliances. The courts backed the clubs. They now exist at schools all over the state. But no way did that stop Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, from introducing a whole new ban on the clubs again this year, fearing they promote discussion of s-e-x.
Did I mention the infamous fight in federal court in the mid-'90s over the state's woeful treatment of children languishing in foster care? Former Gov. Mike Leavitt drew his line in the sand - wouldn't bow to some lawsuit filed by an uppity San Francisco children's rights organization. It took nearly a decade to get that worked out. The state eventually reached a settlement, making necessary changes to the system.
Yep, we have a proud legacy of taking on all comers.
Next question: What changed between the 2002 bill that legalized the tuition break, and this one, which slams a relatively tiny group of students (a total of 169 attended state-funded institutions in 2004-05) for trying to better themselves with a college education?
Could it be something as cynical as a shifting political wind? Back then, pollsters were telling the Republican Party it needed to reach out to Latinos - who historically have aligned with Democrats - if it hoped to keep building its base. The original tuition-break bill, sponsored by Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, was a humane and politically astute beginning.
But no one, pollsters included, predicted the massive conservative Christian vote that helped land President Bush a second term. Anti-immigration fervor began sweeping the nation almost hand in hand. Suddenly, we had civilian "minutemen" patrolling the borders with Mexico and a new law in Utah denying driver licenses to the undocumented.
Meanwhile, our president in his 2006 State of the Union address impressed on Americans how the world is changing. Technology and expanding commerce continue to blur the world's boundaries. He tells us we can't afford to be isolationists.
Final question: If HB7 is not a platinum example of isolationism, what is it? How can Utah, a state founded by immigrants who fled for a better life themselves, consider this decent and worthwhile public policy? Our history speaks to the value of education for all. One of the first projects the Mormon pioneers embarked on was building a fine system of higher education, a place where people could better themselves, especially those from humble circumstances.
HB7 isn't just a bad bill. It's shameful.
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