Richard Jones
El Hispanic News Writer

Salem, OR — Oregon legislators introduced two immigrant-oriented bills in the state Senate in mid-February.

SB 742, if passed by both branches and signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber, would entitle all graduates from Oregon high schools with outstanding records to pay in-state tuition to Oregon universities.

SB 845, if passed and signed, would allow all Oregon residents, regardless of citizenship status, to apply for driver licenses.

Out-of state-students currently pay university tuition rates about twice as high as documented Oregon residents. SB 742 would offer the reduced rate to undocumented students who graduate from an Oregon high school with good grades.

Both bills garnered bipartisan support. The 15 cosponsors of SB 742 consisted of 10 Democrats and five Republicans. Three Democrats and one Republican endorsed the Oregon Driver License Access Act.

Tuition equity

Two members of Oregon’s House of Representatives and two from the Senate sponsored the tuition equity bill.

Representatives Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and Bob Jenson (R-Pendleton) as well as Senators Frank Morse (R-Albany) and David Nelson (R-Pendleton) sponsored SB 742.

House co-sponsors included Mark Johnson (R-Hood River), Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), and Chris Harker (D-Beaverton). Senate co-sponsors were Suzanne Bonamici (D-Portland/Beaverton), Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), Rod Monroe (D-Portland), Chris Edwards (D-Eugene), Chuck Thomsen (R-Hood River), and Chip Shields (D-Portland).

The full text of the SB 742 may be found at

www.leg.state.or.us/11reg/measures/sb0700.dir/sb0742.intro.html.

Tuition equity laws are already on the books in California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Three other states — Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia — have tuition equity laws but they exclude undocumented students.

A statement form the Board of Trustees at the University of Northern Colorado asserted, “A well-educated public enhances the state’s economic vitality and improves civic engagement and the quality of life for all.” The board added that “research in California and Texas, early adopters of tuition equity, has shown that spending on tuition equity pales in comparison to spending on social programs and higher crime rates that would occur in the absence of such legislation.”

Driver license

Before 2008, any person living in Oregon could obtain a driver license after passing written and driving tests, and showing proof of insurance.

This all changed after the legislature refused to issue driver licenses to Oregon residents if they were undocumented or without legal status. That left many employees — notably vineyard and nursery workers — facing an unhappy choice. Many had to choose to lose their jobs or to drive to work without licenses or insurance.

In explaining her support for the Oregon Driver License Access Act, Rep. Tina Kotek (D-Portland) said the bill will increase safety on Oregon’s roads, allow every driver to buy insurance, and enable workers to get to their jobs.

Washington is one of the few states that still makes driver licenses available to all living in the state. Opponents in Washington hope to eliminate that privilege.

In an interview with Seattle-based KUOW-FM, Jorge Baron said, “… we’re talking about people who are already in our communities, who have been living [there] — many of them for many, many years — and the question is do we want them licensed and insured or not.” Baron works with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in Washington.

Sponsors of SB 845 include Sen. Shields and Representatives Jenson, Kotek, and Ben Canon (D-Portland).

To date, legislators have introduced 2,355 measures during the 2011 session of the Oregon Legislature.

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