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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

February 18, 2014 at 6:05 PM

House approves bill on financial aid to students brought to U.S. illegally

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers found something they could agree on Tuesday — allowing students brought here illegally as children to be eligible for financial aid.

The House voted 75 to 22 to pass Senate Bill 6523 and send it to the governor, who has said he supports the legislation.

The measure, approved by the Senate last month, sends an encouraging message to students who have too often told themselves “college is for the rich kids, and it’s out of bounds for me because I’m an illegal alien,” Ricardo Sánchez, founder of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, said in a statement.

“The Real Hope Act changes this narrative to one that says, ‘If I work hard, I can get an education and be anything I want to be,” he said.

It is the first law to pass the Legislature so far this year. Several hundred other bills are waiting in the wings, but it’s anybody’s guess how many of those will reach Gov. Jay Inslee before the session ends on March 13.

Senate Republicans and House Democrats don’t agree on much. That was true for this legislation as well, with the GOP-led caucus in the Senate initially arguing lawmakers had more important priorities to tackle.

The majority caucus in the Senate shifted gears last month and backed the measure, which advocates have been trying to pass for years.

GOP lawmakers said they wanted to make sure funding was available before endorsing the legislation. The measure includes a $5 million appropriation.

About 74,000 students currently receive State Need Grants, and an additional 32,000 eligible students were turned away last year because of a lack of funding. It’s not clear how many more students would become eligible under this bill.

Under the legislation, students are eligible for financial aid if they have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status and meet other conditions such as getting a high-school diploma in Washington and living in the state for at least three years before getting a diploma or its equivalent.

Republicans and Democrats have sparred over what to call the legislation. Democrats have been pushing legislation they call the Dream Act since at least 2007. Senate Republicans call their measure the Real Hope Act, and wrote that title into the bill.

Inslee’s office would not comment on whether the governor might line-item veto the GOP title.

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