BOSTON (WWLP) – It takes two branches to get a major policy reform into the state budget bill that lands on the governor’s desk, and in the early stages of the Senate’s push to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, House Speaker Ron Mariano isn’t saying if he’s willing to tango, or flip his own vote.
Mariano, who like other sitting representatives and senators took a recorded vote in opposition to the reform 17 years ago, did not take a position Tuesday on the proposal Senate Democrats rolled out that would allow Bay State high school graduates to attend colleges and universities at the lower in-state cost regardless of their immigration status.
Undocumented immigrants could qualify for in-state tuition if they attended high school here for at least three years and graduated, or completed a GED. They would need to provide a college or university with a valid Social Security number or taxpayer identification number, an affidavit indicating they applied for citizenship or legal permanent residence or plan to do so once eligible, and proof they registered for selective service if applicable.
“The House will review the Senate’s proposed changes to in-state tuition eligibility as the budget process progresses,” a Mariano spokesperson said.
Where the Quincy Democrat and his supermajority Democrat caucus lands will determine whether the policy survives in the final budget that the Legislature will send to Gov. Maura Healey this summer. The branches over the years have hesitated to adopt major policies embraced in one branch but not debated in the other.
Healey struck a more receptive tone on the proposal Tuesday, saying through a spokesperson that she is “supportive of efforts to provide in-state tuition to students who are living in MA and going to high school here.”
“Expanding access to education and training is also important to address our workforce needs,” said Healey spokesperson Karissa Hand.
Senate Democrats did not estimate the scale of the impact the policy would carry, but the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition said they expect tens of thousands of students would see benefits.
“By allowing all eligible students to receive in-state tuition, Massachusetts would make college dramatically more affordable for tens of thousands of individuals currently without status in the Commonwealth,” said MIRA Coalition Executive Director Elizabeth Sweet. “Tuition equity would increase enrollment at state colleges and universities, and create a stronger, more empowered workforce to drive our state’s future.”
In 2006, the House rejected a similar reform in standalone legislation, and Mariano that year was among the majority (57-96) who rejected the proposed change. Last year, Mariano helped lead the push to open driver’s license access to immigrants regardless of their legal status, an idea that had languished for years, and the speaker this year told immigrants and their advocates he hoped to celebrate more policy wins with them this session.
As a state representative at the time, Senate budget chief Michael Rodrigues of Westport voted against the tuition reform plan, but said Tuesday he now supports it.
“Twenty-three other states provide this for their residents, and it’s been successful in those states,” Rodrigues told reporters Tuesday.
The News Service counted 24 current lawmakers who cast a vote on the topic in 2006 while serving in the House, six of whom have since moved to positions in the Senate.
Seventeen opposed the 2006 proposal to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students in Massachusetts: Reps. Bruce Ayers of Quincy, Antonio Cabral of New Bedford, Paul Donato of Medford, William Galvin of Canton, Colleen Garry of Dracut, Patricia Haddad of Somerset, David Linsky of Natick, Mariano, James Murphy of Weymouth, Alice Peisch of Wellesley, Tom Stanley of Waltham, William Straus of Mattapoisett and now-Sens. Barry Finegold of Andover, Anne Gobi of Spencer, Rodrigues, Michael Rush of West Roxbury and Walter Timilty of Milton.
Sitting legislators who voted in favor of the tuition access reform in 2006 are Reps. Ruth Balser of Newton, Kevin Honan of Allston, Kay Khan of Newton, Mike Moran of Brighton, Smitty Pignatelli of Lenox and John Rogers of Norwood as well as now-Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton.
More recent efforts to revive the in-state tuition reform stalled as legislative leaders opted against deploying their political capital on the measure. Former Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, criticized legislative leaders in 2010 for not advancing the proposal. In 2015, activists protested in legislators’ offices amid inaction at the committee level.
[Michael P. Norton contributed reporting.]