House Democrats released a new proposal earlier this week to try and push the state Senate to approve the provisions of the Dream Act, which would give children of undocumented immigrants access to state financial aid.
Despite passage of the Dream Act in the House again this year, Senate Republicans said they would focus on a bill to remove the waiting period for veterans to pay resident college tuition, rather than move the Dream Act forward. In response, one House Democrat has come up with a bill that takes care of both issues at once.
House Bill 2726 essentially combines the provisions of the Dream Act (HB 1817), with those of several House and Senate bills that aimed to grant veterans immediate resident status for tuition.
Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, the prime sponsor of the new bill, said it was not meant to force the Senate to take up the Dream Act, but simply to address their concerns with supporting one group of students over another.
"We want to help both groups (of students)," Hudgins said. "We don't want to pit one group against another."
Despite the sentiment, some House Republicans question the motives of the bill and wonder if it will wind up hurting the goals of the separate pieces of legislation.
Rep. Dan Kristiansen, the House Republican leader from Snohomish, said mixing the measures could cost votes in the House, and he doesn't want the House to appear to be "dealmaking" with Senate Republicans.
"My hope is that it's not an attempt to politically force (the Senate)," Kristiansen said. The separate Dream Act and veteran tuition proposals, he said, should move forward on their own.
"Let them both carry their own water and see what we end up with," he said.
Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said she didn't know enough of the details of the new bill to say yet if she would support it, but said it makes sense to focus on the bills that are already moving through the legislative process.
Though the bill has yet to be scheduled for a hearing, Hudgins said he thinks the House will support it as much as the Dream Act, which passed 71-23 on the first day of session. He thinks his new bill has hope in the Senate, as well.
"I wouldn't have dropped the bill if I didn't have hope it would move forward (in the Senate)," he said.
The Dream Act passed the Democratically controlled House last year, but stalled when it was returned to the House after a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, whose 10th District includes La Conner and parts of Mount Vernon, Burlington and Fidalgo Island.
After the passage of the Dream Act in the House again this year, Bailey said she would be focused on the veterans tuition bill.
On Jan. 17, students from Mount Vernon High School met with Bailey in the hopes of getting her to change her mind and support the Dream Act.
Without it, senior Victor Gonzalez said, students like him wouldn't be able to achieve their dreams. Gonzalez said he wants to graduate from high school and break the stereotype about Hispanic students dropping out. He wants to go to college and become a pediatrician.
"We were educated by the U.S. education system, and we all deserve a chance," Gonzalez said. "By doing this, I'm going to achieve my dreams and go to college and serve the Hispanic community."
When the students talked with Bailey, they said they were met with mixed results: they felt she understood where they were coming from, but mentioned "hollow promises" saying that change first needed to happen at the federal level and that, even if the bill were passed, there was no guarantee those students would receive any money.
"Her argument was, 'Why would we add more people to the pool when U.S. citizens can't get the funds?'" Gonzalez said of Bailey.
Teacher Gethyn Chilcoat said the students were asking Bailey to fulfill a commitment she made at the beginning of the school year when she met with Mount Vernon faculty and staff.
"She told the teachers, 'I will do everything I can for your students,' " Chilcoat said."Maybe she didn't know who her students were in some ways."
In a district like Mount Vernon, helping students means moving forward with the Dream Act, teacher Nate Shepherd said. The district does not keep track of how many students are undocumented, Superintendent Carl Bruner said, but he knows there are some who would benefit from the Dream Act.
Bailey could not be reached in Olympia for comment on the new bill.
In light of the introduction of HB 2726 - Hudgins' new bill - the Mount Vernon students went classroom to classroom to have district staff sign a letter in support of Bailey and her willingness to meet with them.
"We write to you today, hoping you will use your compassion and influence as an important leader in the Senate to help all students who are educated in our schools to realize our dreams of going to college and living productive lives as adults," the letter read.
Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said she is 100 percent in support of Hudgins' measure, as it helps address two major concerns for the state and her district. However, she said she can't predict how the Senate will react to the measure.
In the Senate, a bill to give veterans resident tuition (SB 5138, sponsored by Bailey), is expected to move forward soon. The Senate has yet to schedule a hearing for the Dream Act in the Higher Education Committee.