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Senate rejects House plan on tuition for immigrants

As key Democrats appeared to withdraw support for a plan to provide in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, the upper chamber voted to reject the House's version of the bill. The move, which followed the beginning of a filibuster attempt, means the two chambers have hours to work out their differences.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supports the tuition bills, told senators "it's not fair" that the House took so long to develop a plan. He noted that the Senate initially passed the legislation March 14, and it took the House until today -- Sine Die -- to send it back with revisions. (It actually could have come up during Saturday's Senate session but did not.)

In-state tuition could be the nail-biter of the day, though as colleague Annie Linskey writes, much work also remains to be done on a politically freighted issue of whether to raise the sales tax on alcohol.

Republicans appear ready for a fight on both issues. On tuition, Sen. David Brinkley (pictured right) rose to begin a filibuster when he saw that some Democrats who had voted "yes" on the Senate proposal voted "no" on agreeing to the House version. The Senate first adopted the House version by a vote of 24-23.

Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, read from Born to Run as Democrats scurried to develop a new plan of action. Miller said his party could not reach the 29 votes necessary to end the filibuster. Instead, Democrats rallied to reconsider the concurrence to the House measure -- a move that incensed education committee Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway, who said the Senate should keep the House proposal as her committee had suggested.

Senators differed greatly on whether the House plan makes it tougher or easier for illegal immigrants to access the tuition breaks. Some senators complained that the chamber's carefully crafted plan on how immigrant families must show they've paid state taxes appears to have been scuttled by a long, technical amendment attached to the bill last week by Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons.

The Simmons amendment seems to toughen the tax proof requirement by calling for 90 days of withholdings to be shown -- but it simultaneously provides an out for family members who have a disability or other reason they can't work. Some senators also objected to a House plan to count undocumented students as out-of-state pupils even though they'll be paying the in-state rates.

In March, the Senate voted 27-20 to approve on the tuition bill. On the original motion today to concur with the House version, Democratic Sens. John Astle of Anne Arundel County, Ed Kasemeyer of Baltimore County and Jim Robey of Howard County voted no.

Check out this blog to see how all 141 delegates and 47 senators voted on the in-state tuition bills.

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