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DACA language in budget sent back to conference committee

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In a rare move, one of the bills that makes up the state’s upcoming operating budget will be brought back to the conference committee and rehashed.

On Thursday, both chambers voted for the Conference Committee on Budget to take another look at the appropriations of funds for the expenses, grants, refunds, and distributions of the Department of Higher Education.

The deadline for passing a balanced budget is 6 p.m. Friday.

The differences between the Senate and House version HB 3, which is one of 13 bills comprising Missouri’s $30 billion budget for the upcoming year, were only settled on Tuesday. Now those differences are be back up for debate. 

The last time a budget bill was sent back to conference was in 2009.

The point of contention in the bill is language on who is eligible for in-state tuition at Missouri’s public universities. The conference committee removed the requirement that undocumented immigrants be charged international tuition, instead allowing a college to set its own policy — as schools did before the budget mandate.  

“Is it worth not passing a budget and fulfilling our constitutional obligation as a legislature?” Rep. Steven Roberts asked House Budget Chair Cody Smith.

Smith argued taxpayer support is what allows public colleges to offer in-state tuition, thus Missourians would be subsiding undocumented immigrants — the same argument he made during conference committee.

“I will never vote on funding illegal immigrant education here in Missouri,” said Rep. Phil Christofanelli.

Since 2015, the budget has required undocumented immigrants protected under Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to pay international rates at colleges and prohibited those students from receiving scholarships.

The House maintained the language while the Senate had stripped it out of the budget.

It was Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman who offered the “compromise,” which was initially settled on. His proposal — backed during the initial hearing by Republican Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Lincoln Hough — would remove the international tuition requirement but still ban DACA students from receiving scholarships.

Supporters maintained removing the language would not guarantee undocumented immigrants in-state tuition; rather, it simply allows a college to set its own policy — as schools did before the budget mandate.  

After six of the 10 committee members spoke in favor, lawmakers had agreed to go with the compromise language. All 10 members of the committee signed of the bill. 

“I am disappointed,” Holsman said Thursday evening. “I vehemently disagree that [putting the language back in] is in the best interest of our state.” 

As the Senate was considering sending it back to committee, he noted if it wasn’t for the legislature’s constitutional obligation to pass a budget, they would not be moving off the motion.

“I commend you for not being petty and holding up everything right now,” fellow Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed told Holsman.