NJ Senate panel approves in-state tuition bill

Proponents and opponents testified before the committee on the hot-button issue.

Proponents and opponents testified before the committee on the hot-button issue. (11/14/13)

TRENTON - The Senate Budget Committee approved a bill Thursday that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. The bill now heads to the full Senate.

The bill allows students who have earned a diploma from a New Jersey high school that they'd attended for at least three years to pay the discounted tuition rate if they meet other strict criteria.

Proponents and opponents testified before the committee on the hot-button issue.

The proposal, dubbed the Dream Act, is geared toward granting the cheaper tuition rate to tens of thousands of students who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

Giancarlo Tello found out about his status when he asked his mom if he could apply for a driver's license. "I couldn't get my license," he says. "I couldn't get work authorization to be able to work legally. I couldn't apply for most scholarships and every night I'd still live under the fear of deportation."

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz is the prime sponsor of the bill. "There is one great asset in this country, and that's education and it's the greatest equalizing factor that we can afford any human being," she says.

The Assembly Budget Committee passed a similar bill in June.

Though neither house has scheduled final votes, there is already speculation over whether Gov. Chris Christie would sign the measure. The likely 2016 presidential candidate has made inroads with Hispanic and black voters who typically shun the GOP. However, conservatives who play a big role in selecting the Republican presidential nominee strongly oppose bills that help illegal residents.

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