Parrott stumps for referendum effort to overturn in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

April 26, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, speaks in Annapolis on Tuesday about an effort to overturn a bill granting in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants. Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, is at left.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS — Technology might play a key role in an effort to overturn a new measure granting in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants in Maryland.

Organizers of a petition drive, led by Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, said in Annapolis Tuesday that they're counting on the Internet to help their cause.

They need to collect more than 55,000 signatures by the end of June. They hope to get twice that number, in case numerous signatures are invalidated.

If they meet their deadline, the bill — which the Maryland General Assembly approved on April 11, the final day of the 2011 legislative session — would be put on hold.

Then, Maryland voters would decide the issue through a referendum in the 2012 general election.

Proponents argue that in-state tuition helps children who have gone through Maryland schools and might not be able to afford a higher education, regardless of whether their parents came to the United States illegally.

There are provisions in the bill requiring students to graduate from a Maryland high school, then attend a community college in the state, before pursuing an advanced degree. For community colleges, illegal immigrants could qualify for the in-county tuition rate.

They or their families must prove they have paid income tax or filed a return for three years.

The savings would be the greatest at the University of Maryland in College Park, where tuition is about three times as much for out-of-state students.

Gov. Martin O'Malley hasn't signed the bill into law, but plans to, according to Shaun Adamec, a spokesman for the governor.

Parrott, the chairman of the petition drive, spoke at an Annapolis news conference Tuesday to promote a website supporting the effort.

The site — — can help people properly fill out a form, which they'll sign and mail to Parrott.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, guessed that as much as 90 percent of the signatures might be obtained with the help of the website, where he has directed hundreds of supporters.

In the pre-digital age, organizers would have to print stacks of petitions and send them to volunteers who are collecting signatures. Now, the website, with clear directions, simplifies and quickens the process, McDonough said.

Collecting signatures can be tricky because of legal requirements on how names must be signed.

Parrott said he put up $2,500 of his own money to pay for upfront expenses. He expects to recover that through donations.

The website is urging supporters to donate $50,000 by the end of May to help with printing, the website and legal costs.

To get the issue on the 2012 ballot, organizers must collect signatures from 55,736 registered voters — or 3 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election — by June 30.

One-third of those signatures must be filed by May 31.

On April 18, Parrott filed his intent to mount a petition drive. It took a few days for officials to make sure his proposed petition met state guidelines.

McDonough, the honorary chairman of the effort, said the group lost four days because of the review and might sue later for extra time.

People associated with the Campaign for Liberty, the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity are among the volunteers on the drive, Parrott said.

There are plans to file three different lawsuits in the summer if the petition drive doesn't work, although the lawsuits might proceed even if there is a referendum, McDonough said.

Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's, the House minority leader, said at the news conference that illegal immigrants shouldn't take in-state spots in college away from legal state residents.

The last time a petition drive led to a referendum that changed Maryland law was in 1992, when voters repealed limits on abortions.

Four years earlier, a petition drive and referendum led to new restrictions on guns.

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