Democratic lawmakers propose in-state tuition for all Georgia students

Five Georgia House Democrats have proposed legislation aimed at allowing immigrants with temporary permission to stay in the United States to pay in-state tuition at any of the state’s public colleges and universities.

Those students currently pay out-of-state tuition, which is at least three times higher than the in-state cost to study at University System of Georgia schools.

House Bill 896, introduced Wednesday, would change the tuition restrictions in Georgia, with some conditions. The student must be enrolled at a Georgia high school for at least three years, have filed paperwork seeking legal immigration status and have a high school diploma or GED.

The sponsors argue for the changes as an economic development issue. They worry that some students will get an education outside Georgia and won’t return. Nineteen states have similar policies, the sponsors said.

“We want to retain talent in Georgia. We’re already investing in these students,” House Minority Leader Robert Trammell, one of the sponsors, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “It’s just a fairness issue.”

The bill, though, does not have any Republican sponsors, which could make it difficult to adopt in the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Trammell said he’s hopeful for Republican support.

Efforts to reach Chuck Martin, a Republican from Alpharetta who is the House’s Higher Education Committee chairman, were unsuccessful Thursday. Lindsey Tippins, a Republican from Marietta who is the Senate’s Higher Education Committee chairman, declined comment Thursday, saying he hadn’t seen the bill and wanted to wait until the legislation comes to his chamber before discussing it.

The issue has been at the center of several legal battles. In October 2017, Georgia's Court of Appeals reversed a lower court's decision that said the state must permit residents who have been granted a special reprieve from deportation to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide this year, in one of its most anticipated rulings, the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that started in 2012 allowing those reprieves. There are about 21,000 people in the state participating in the program.