State Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) and State Rep. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) are clear that the goal of their in-state tuition bill is to block awarding the state benefit to illegal aliens. Their bill augments the Tennessee’s “Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act” with precise language identifying in-state tuition as a state benefit.
Terry’s explanation leaves no doubt in this regard:
In-state tuition only covers between 25-75 percent of the cost to provide the college education. Taxpayer funds support the rest. That is clearly a state benefit. Any attempt to exclude post secondary assistance in the definition of a state benefit is contrary to the facts and our bill will ensure taxpayers are protected.
There are U.S. citizens who live out of state, but pay business or property taxes in Tennessee. They still must pay out of state tuition. We shouldn’t be incentivizing illegal immigrants to take advantage of Tennessee taxpayers when we don’t even provide a courtesy to Americans who are investing in our state.
And his bill, HB2101 directly contradicts State Rep. Mark White’s (R-Memphis) bill, HB2429 which is trying to exempt in-state tuition from state law that defines what is a “state or local public benefit.”
Last week the House Education Subcommittee chaired by White, passed his bill on a voice vote with no discussion. This was his fourth attempt at securing the state benefit for illegal aliens. Terry’s bill is on the calendar for today in the same subcommittee.
Green’s companion bill is number 36 on Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee calendar, twenty-something bills ahead of Gardenhire’s in-state tuition companion bill to White’s. Committees, however, do not always take bills in the order listed in the calendar.
Green knows that his bill is in-step with people from around the state that he has talked with:
Tennesseans have made it abundantly clear that they do not want their tax dollars to subsidize college tuition for those who are in our country illegally. Families across our state are struggling with the ever-rising costs of tuition, and the last thing they want to see is their tax dollars being used to pay tuition for illegal aliens.
Tennessee Star polling of likely Republican primary voters opposed to providing taxpayer subsidized in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students increased between June to December 2017, from 84 percent to 88 percent–while support has decreased–from 11 percent to 6 percent.
White and Gardenhire have scrupulously avoided labelling the intended beneficiaries of their bills as illegal aliens, unlawful immigrants or illegal immigrants. White has used obtuse descriptions such as “children in a special situation,” although Gardenhire did call them “children of undocumented immigrants” when he objected to The Tennessee Star polling question on in-state tuition.
According to a 2017 opinion issued by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, the Gardenhire/White bill in its current form, is defective according to legal decisions on the issue.
The federal law which limits the authority of state governments to extend public benefits to illegal aliens does permit states some latitude in this regard, but only if the language explicitly identifies “unlawful aliens” as the intended beneficiaries.
By way of example, the AG opinion cites to a California case addressing in-state tuition:
In Martinez, the California Supreme Court held that, to meet the ‘affirmatively provides’ requirement, state legislation did not have to expressly reference § 1621 [the federal law] but did have to ‘expressly state that it applies to undocumented aliens, rather than conferring a benefit generally without specifying that its benefits may include undocumented aliens.’
White has said that it would be harder to pass this type of bill if he had to include an explicit reference to illegal or unlawful immigrants.