OLYMPIA — The Washington State Dream Act was approved by the state House on Wednesday, bringing undocumented students one step closer to being eligible for the State Need Grant.
The measure was approved 77-20, with unanimous Democrat support and a split vote on the Republican side. It was the last piece of House legislation to make it through before the session’s cutoff.
House Bill 1817 would qualify all students who graduated from a Washington high school or earned a diploma-equivalent in the state for the State Need Grant — the state’s largest financial-aid program — as long as they meet other grant requirements. The students must also remain in the state after earning their diploma, until they attend college.
Bill sponsor Rep. Zack Hudgins urged fellow legislators to pass HB 1817 for the good of Washington. He said regardless of where students are born, they are capable of having a big impact on the state’s economy.
“[Undocumented students] are the ones who will sell our apples and pears and airplanes,” said Hudgins, D-Tukwila. “These kids have no choice in where they are born, but they do have a choice in how hard they work.”
The issue now goes to the Senate for consideration. Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, D-Seattle, introduced a similar bill the Senate, but it died without receiving a hearing. And on Wednesday, a maneuver by supporters to pass the Dream Act by tacking it onto other legislation failed.
Several House Republicans spoke in favor of the bill Wednesday, arguing it would benefit their constituents and strengthen their communities. Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, said receiving an education will allow undocumented students a chance to participate fully in their communities.
But fellow Republican Rep. Larry Haler, of Richland, spoke against passage – not because he disagreed with the intent of the bill, but because of the budget.
“Currently we can’t fund 32,000 young men and women who meet the eligibility of the State Need Grant,” said Haler, R-Richland. “Sometime in the future, a few years from now, we might be able to afford it.”
Rep. Overstreet, R-Lynden, argued that the bill shouldn’t be passed because people in the county illegally shouldn’t have access to a state-funded education. He said representatives shouldn’t vote on the bill based on emotion or compassion, they should vote based on laws already in place.