Assembly Debate: D’s and R’s clash over tuition equality bill, which passes

TRENTON – After engaging in a fiery floor debate on party lines, the General Assembly this afternoon passed Bill S2479, which allows students without lawful immigration status to pay in-state tuition at New Jersey’s public institutions.

The bill passed 46-32.

Gov. Chris Christie plans to conditionally veto the bill later today, leaving out Tuition Aid Grants (TAG), but otherwise preserving the bulk of the original bill.

Wondering aloud why Democrats wouldn’t accept legislative compromises before the bill’s submission to the governor, several GOP opponents of 2479 rose to outline their reasons for opposition to the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37).

“On this issue we’re going to disagree,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26). “We’re talking about college tuition subsidies for non-citizens. …As the State of New Jersey we have certain obligations. … We welcome the students in, [but] I can’t support giving another subsidy. …That doesn’t seem right; that doesn’t seem to be the purpose.”

Webber said legislators have no idea how much it will cost. “If we’re spending on anything other than property tax relief we’re misspending our priorities,” said the GOP lawmaker.

Fundamentally, Webber said he also couldn’t get around his belief that the bill treats non-citizens better than citizens.

Assemblyman Angel Fuentes (D-5) slapped at Webber. “This is their home,” he said of New Jersey. “They are today’s honor roll students. They are tomorrow’s doctors and lawyers.”

Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) tried to strike down Assembly Bill 2479 and replace it with another version. His effort failed.

Speaker-elect Vincent Prieto (D-32) called the bill “the right thing to do. As Assemblyman Webber said, we are subsidizing them. K-12. To say it stops after 12, that’s not fair,” Prieto said. “We can’t stop the clock at Grade 12.”

Assemblywoman Alison McHose (R-24) shot back, “Illegal immigrants suppress wages while creating a gray economy outside the oversight of the law. They are breaking the law.”

Guffaws sounded in the Assembly Gallery.

“These students are not lawbreakers,” objected Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6). “When you go to these students and ask them what they want to be they don’t understand that there is a law that inhibits them.”

Webber rose again and praised New Jersey, unburdened by the bill.

“Assemblyman Vincent Prieto is going to be the Speaker of the Assembly and it didn’t require us to provide in-state tuition,” he said.

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-4) fumed in response.

“With all due respect, sir, I think your argument is flawed,” she said. “I really don’t understand your argument. This is not a subsidy. This is not giving them a free ride. It’s an opportunity, the way the opportunity was given to me. This bill is giving them the opportunity to be who they want to be.

“No matter what’s going on in Washington, D.C. right now, this is still a great country,” Mosquera added.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7) rushed to Mosquera’s aid.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not not just about fairness, this is an economic imperative,” the Burlington Democrat said.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25) said he has sons in the military, ready and willing to fight and die for the country. “This is a subsidy to young adults, and what are we getting?” he wanted to know.

Assembly Debate: D’s and R’s clash over tuition equality bill, which passes