Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) and Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) have sponsored two bills this session that would grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students.
HB863 failed in the House Education committee Tuesday on a 7-6 vote but Rep. White’s other bill, HB660, looks like it will be the first bill considered by the committee on Wednesday morning.
This White/Gardenhire bill would authorize the new college and university governing boards to decide which students are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates.
“The bill is designed to allow each local community and institution to do what is best for their institution” is how Rep. White’s office described the bill in an email to the Tennessee Star.
Importantly, however, HB660 “exempts the extension of in-state tuition that this amendment provides from the definition of ‘state or local public benefit’ under the ‘Eligibility Verification for Entitlements Act’” according to an earlier email statement from Paul Marsh in Rep. White’s office.
Last year, the Tennessee legislature passed Governor Haslam’s FOCUS Act enabling the six universities in the Board of Regents system, including Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State University and MTSU to have their own boards that among other duties, will oversee tuition.
When White’s HB660 was first heard in the Education Subcommittee, Chairman Harry Brooks, raised the question of whether Section 5 of the bill would allow the school governing boards to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students because that section removes the paying of in-state tuition from being a state benefit as currently contained in state law. White confirmed that it would be left to the individual schools to decide whether they wanted to “go in that direction.”
Brooks suggested that removing Section 5 from this bill would accomplish what White claimed was the intent of HB660 which was to give the governing boards the ability to promulgate rules around tuition that would help them fill their schools. Brooks suggested that White instead rely on HB863 to give illegal immigrant students in-state tuition.
White said it wasn’t his preference to remove Section 5, but in order not to “lose the bill” he deleted Section 5 but the amended version has not yet been posted on the legislature’s website. While discussing the new bill version, White indicated that he was also changing the bill from “it’s original intention.”
In the meantime, Gardenhire’s unamended bill which retains the language of Section 5, was passed by the Senate Education Committee with Republican senators Steven Dickerson, Todd Gardenhire, Dolores Gresham, Ferell Haile and Democrat Reginald Tate voting yes; Sen. Joey Hensley voted no and Sen. Brian Kelsey abstained.
If Gardenhire’s unamended bill passes the full Senate before the full House acts on White’s bill, White would have the opportunity to “substitute and conform” his bill to Gardenhire’s version and have it voted on the House floor. If, however, the two different versions each pass their respective chambers, the two bills would be reconciled in a conference committee meeting with the possibility that Section 5 would be retained in the final version.