The Senate on Thursday passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) that authorizes Tennessee public universities to exempt some students from paying out-of-state tuition even if they are not technically U.S. citizens. The measure passed on a 21-12 vote after successfully navigating the Senate’s Education and Finance, Ways and Means Committees. As amended by the Finance committee, the legislation states that a student may be eligible for in-state tuition if that student is “lawfully present” in the United States and either graduated from a Tennessee high school, obtained a state-approved GED or HiSET certification, or completed a Tennessee home school program.
The addition of the “lawfully present” language via amendment earned more support for the bill from both Republicans and Democrats, as opposed to the broadly written original version that would have granted the in-state benefits to students regardless of immigration status. Under the amended legislation, undocumented students that qualify for the original 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status will be eligible for in-state tuition. DACA allows a person that is otherwise undocumented to establish lawful presence if they apply through the Department of Homeland Security and meet certain age, residency, criminal background, and education requirements.
The House companion bill, sponsored in the by Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis), is currently scheduled for the House Finance Subcommittee next week. It must first pass through the House Finance, Ways and Means committee process and the House floor before it can be taken to Gov. Bill Haslam for his decision.