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Maryland in-state tuition bill to go on ballot

ANNAPOLIS — Opponents of a recently approved measure that would allow certain illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Maryland colleges have collected enough signatures to put the matter before state voters in November 2012, officials said Thursday.

The Maryland State Board of Elections board reported that 63,118 signatures had been validated. A total of 55,736 signatures is needed to put the measure on the ballot for voters to decide in November 2012. About 40,000 signatures remain to be verified.

“It’s going on the ballot, and the local boards will continue the verification process of the remaining signatures,” said Mary Wagner, the state board’s director of voter registration. “The local boards will continue the verification process and then we will certify on July 22.”

The bill was signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in May. It was scheduled to take effect July 1, but it has been delayed from taking effect because of the petition drive.

Republican Delegate Neil Parrott, who led the petition drive, said he was thrilled by the outcome. It will be Maryland’s first referendum from a successful petition drive since 1992, when voters approved a bill guaranteeing abortion rights in Maryland.

“This is a great victory for the voters of Maryland and in particular those volunteers across the state that have worked diligently over the past months to allow voters of Maryland to vote on this in November of 2012,” said Parrott, of Washington County.

The success rate of the signature count has been more than 80 percent, Parrott said. At that rate he expected the total number of validated signatures to be more than 95,000.

Supporters of the measure said they were confident Maryland voters will vote in favor of it.

“We believe that investing in our children is critical for a successful Maryland, and we trust that once Marylanders do the math, they will understand the fiscal and moral import to ensure the MD Dream law prevails,” the Maryland Industrial Areas Foundation, a coalition of Maryland clergy and their congregations, said in a statement.

The measure would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at four-year public colleges, if they complete two years at a community college after attending three years of high school. Students also will have to show that their parents filed state income tax returns. Male students would be required to sign up for Selective Service to be eligible for the draft.

The Maryland legislation includes a provision that requires illegal immigrants receiving the reduced tuition rate to count as a part of the school’s out-of-state student pool, so in-state student slots for Maryland residents won’t be affected.

Only a successful legal challenge could prevent the referendum from taking place.

The Republican-led petition drive used an online tool to make it easier for registered voters to submit signatures. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland contends the online system could be susceptible to fraud. However, only about one-third of the signatures came from the website.

Kim Propeack, political director for the immigrant service group Casa de Maryland, said she believes there are signatures that can be challenged.

“We are certain that there are some signatures that they’ve incorrectly validated, so it just comes down to how many that are challengeable, and we won’t know that until we see the evidence,” Propeack said.

David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said Thursday: “We’ve expressed our concerns about the legality of the process, and we have not said — and I’m not prepared to say right now — whether we are or are not going to file a lawsuit.”