Maryland lawmakers move closer to expanding the state’s Dream Act for undocumented immigrants

Maryland lawmakers move closer to expanding the state’s Dream Act for undocumented immigrants

Originally published by The Washington Post

Maryland lawmakers want to increase the number of undocumented immigrants who are afforded the chance to receive in-state tuition breaks.

The General Assembly approved legislation that expands the Maryland Dream Act, a 2012 law that grants an in-state tuition discount to undocumented immigrants. A Senate bill was sent to the governor’s desk for his signature and a companion bill is scheduled to receive final approval on Friday. The governor has not said whether he will sign the legislation.

Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), the House bill sponsor, said the bill stalled in the Senate last year but moved this session, a sign of the leftward shift in the General Assembly after the November election.

Thursday’s action on the “dreamer” bill came as lawmakers moved quickly to pass bills before the General Assembly ends its 90-day session on Monday night.

“We found that in the original language we passed a few years ago we were excluding kids who by any reasonable standard should have a chance to go to school,” Luedtke said.

For example, to qualify for in-state tuition, an undocumented immigrant had to attend a two-year community college before enrolling in a four-year school. The bill removes the restriction.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Luedtke said. “If you’re a highflier and you’re ready to go to Towson or College Park, why would we stop you from doing that.”

It is unclear how many additional students would receive the new benefit. Less than 500 students currently participate.

The Senate also unanimously approved an emergency bill, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), that makes sweeping reforms to the University of Maryland Medical System’s board, whose members are the focus of an investigation reviewing the lucrative contracts board members received while overseeing the system. Another bill, sponsored by House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), is also on the legislative fast track.

The bills would bar board members from holding single-source contracts with UMMS and require stringent financial disclosures. It would also dissolve the current board in several stages. Nine board members, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D), had contracts with the hospital system that were in some cases worth millions of dollars.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the revelation of the “self-dealing” on the private, nonprofit UMMS board should be a warning to other nonprofits.

“I think everybody should reevaluate their boards,” Miller said.

Carter said she does not think UMMS is an outlier. “I think we need to take a look at other entities,” she said.

Also in the Senate, Miller, who announced on the second day of session that he had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, gave an update on his health. He told his colleagues on Thursday that he “got kicked in the rear end” when he learned of his diagnosis but his “issue is holding steady.”

He thanked his colleagues for allowing him to serve. He said his latest tests show his prostate-specific antigen levels (a protein produced by the prostate) are “about the same” and that he will be receiving radiation treatments on his pelvic and spine area two days after session ends.

Miller said he plans to report to his colleagues about his health every three months. In November, the senators will have a caucus to decide next steps, he said.

“I very much appreciate [and] thank you for your forbearance with my medical issues,” he said. “Again, it’s about the Senate, it’s not about me.”

The General Assembly also gave final approval this week to the country’s first statewide ban on foam containers. While products packaged out of state, such a dried ramen in a cup, could still be sold with the polystyrene material, Maryland businesses would not be able to use foam cups, takeout containers or food packaging.

Smaller jurisdictions across the country, including the District, have already banned foam containers. Environmentalists say the foam products litter waterways and fill landfills but can never fully degrade.

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