ANNAPOLIS — Del. Neil C. Parrott is trying to force a referendum on whether Maryland should give in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants, a measure the General Assembly approved this year.
Parrott, R-Washington, who opposes the tuition plan, has taken the first step toward a petition drive, hoping to overturn the legislature’s work through a public vote, which Maryland allows.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, plans to sign the bill into law, according to spokesman Shaun Adamec.
Supporters have argued that Maryland would be better off if everyone, regardless of immigration status, is educated. Many illegal immigrants who have lived much of their lives in Maryland can’t afford out-of-state tuition, supporters have said.
But Parrott said Maryland should be clamping down on illegal immigration, not rewarding it.
He said the bill would force legal residents, some of whom can’t afford college, either, to subsidize the education of illegal immigrants.
The difference is pronounced at the flagship school in Maryland’s university system.
According to the state Department of Legislative Services, the proposed fall 2011 total of tuition and mandatory fees at the University of Maryland in College Park is $8,655 for in-state residents and $25,795 for out-of-state residents.
Parrott said he’s the chairman of a group collaborating on the petition drive, with Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, known for his battles against illegal immigration, as the honorary chairman.
Others involved in the effort met Saturday in Annapolis and Tuesday in Mount Airy, Md.
On Wednesday, Parrott declined to talk more about the group before a news conference is held Tuesday in Annapolis.
Organizers must collect the signatures of more than 55,000 registered voters in Maryland in the next 10 weeks. If they’re successful, the issue would be on the ballot in the 2012 general election.
The in-state tuition bill passed the House of Delegates 74-66 and the Senate 27-19.
All six Washington County delegation Republicans, as well as Del. John P. Donoghue, a Democrat, voted against the bill. Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, voted for it.
To qualify under the bill, illegal immigrants must attend a secondary school in Maryland for at least three years and must graduate. They or their parents or guardians must prove they have paid income tax or filed a return for three years.
After high school, they must attend community college, where they can receive the in-county rate, before seeking an advanced degree.
The bill nearly collapsed on the legislative session’s final day when the Senate balked at a House amendment adding more leniency, which was later stricken by a committee of senators and delegates.
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, who opposed the bill, was part of the conference committee. He said he refused to sign the final agreement.
In 2003, the legislature passed a bill affording in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican, vetoed it.
As the House was debating the bill on April 8, Parrott posted a note on Facebook asking if opponents of the measure wanted to push for a referendum. The answer was a firm yes.
On April 18, he filed his intent to have a petition drive.
Donna Duncan, the director of the Election Management Division of the Maryland State Board of Elections, said Wednesday that the state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing Parrott’s request to see if it meets the guidelines for petitions.
A successful petition must have signatures from 55,736 registered voters, or 3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election, Duncan said.
One-third of the signatures must be filed with the Maryland Secretary of State’s Office by 11:59 p.m. on May 31. The other two-thirds must be filed by June 30.
A tangential issue is how signatures must be collected and written.
The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in 2008 that someone had to sign his or her full name on a petition exactly as it appears on voter registration records for it to count.
This year, the State Board of Elections rejected thousands of signatures submitted by the Green and Libertarian parties as part of their efforts to regain ballot slots.
Separately, the court ruled last month that a signature can’t be rejected merely because it’s illegible. That prompted the State Board of Elections to reverse its rejection of thousands of Green and Libertarian petition signatures.
But that still left them short of the 10,000 signatures they need to regain ballot slots. The parties are suing over the denial.
Parrott said the court rulings have prompted his group to give clear directions for signing petitions and collecting signatures.
The last time a petition and referendum led to a change in Maryland law was in 1992, when voters repealed limits on abortions, Duncan said.
A 1988 petition drive and referendum resulted in new restrictions on guns.