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Dream Act clears Washington House on first day; Senate fate uncertain

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, speaks to the House on the first day of the 2014 session of the Washington state Legislature on Mondayin Olympia. (Associated Press)
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, speaks to the House on the first day of the 2014 session of the Washington state Legislature on Mondayin Olympia. (Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – The House moved quickly to reiterate its support for expanding college aid to qualifying students who aren’t legal residents, passing the DREAM Act less than an hour after this year’s session started.

Lawmakers rarely vote on legislation on the opening day because bills routinely go through a hearing process first. But in a 71-23 vote, the House re-approved legislation it passed last year and sent it back to the Senate, where it had died in committee in the 2013 session.

House Bill 1817 allows any graduate of a Washington high school who is eligible for state-sponsored college aid to receive it, regardless of whether he or she is a legal resident. 

“This is an opportunity to compete, not a giveaway,” said state Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila.

House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, used part of his welcoming speech to recognize immigrant students in the gallery and talk about his ancestors who immigrated from Croatia.

“This is not only personal to me, it is fundamental to our state and nation,” he said. “Life is short and so is the session. Let’s get to work.”

While most speakers favored the bill, Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, said it’s an expansion of aid programs the state can’t afford: “The statistics, unfortunately, trump the dream.”

The bill now returns to the Senate, where minority Democrats have called it one of their priorities but the predominantly Republican majority may still resist it.

Senate Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, signaled her priority by reintroducing a different bill the Senate passed but the House did not last year: Senate Bill 5317, which guarantees any veteran would pay in-state tuition at a Washington college.

“It’s time to do right by our veterans and give them the same opportunities we provide for other Washington state residents,” Bailey said.

Also on the first day, House Democrats moved to refight last year’s battle over abortion coverage, holding a hearing on a bill that would require most medical insurance plans with maternity care to also include abortion services. The House Health Care Committee’s hearing on the Reproductive Parity Act offered many of the same arguments for and against as last winter’s session: Abortion foes said it was not fair to force people with moral objections to abortion to pay for insurance that covers it; abortion-rights advocates said women deserve to have all options and not be restricted by insurance companies, employers or legislators.

The House passed the Reproductive Parity Act last year, but it was held in a Senate committee, and parliamentary efforts by Democrats to force a floor vote failed.

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