Thursday, July 7, 2011

Will the ACLU Seek to Thwart the Democratic Process in Maryland?

from The Baltimore Sun
State elections officials on Thursday plan to resume reporting the tally of verified signatures for their petition against the new law that would extend in-state tuition breaks at state colleges and universities to illegal immigrants.

The first batch of signatures, submitted in May, brought petition organizers within less than 8,500 verified names of getting the controversial law suspended and put on the 2012 ballot, where voters would have the final say.

After submitting nearly 75,000 more signatures before the final deadline last week, they are expected to soar past that goal.

“It probably won’t take them long” to get to the threshold, predicted Del. Neil Parrott, the Washington County Republican who has led the effort.

A lawyer from the Maryland Office of the Attorney General told the elections board Wednesday that officials must review all of the petitions submitted, and not simply enough to reach the 55,736 valid signatures needed to trigger the referendum.

The directive reversed advice the attorney general’s office provided for a petition drive against an abortion law. In that effort, the elections board stopped counting once they reached the number required to trigger a referendum.

“We are going to count them,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. “It is the law. All the signatures will be counted.”

Paulson said that the law has changed since the abortion petition was submitted.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the in-state tuition law in May after it was approved by narrow majorities in the Democratic General Assembly.

To qualify for the in-state tutition rate, an illegal immigrant would have to attend high school in Maryland for three years and show that his or her family had filed state tax returns.

The student then could attend a community college at the in-state rate. After completing 60 credits, he or she could transfer to a four-year college, again at the residential discount.

Children of military members stationed in Maryland would also benefit from the new law.

The legislation would save eligible students $4,000 to $6,000 per year at community college, according to a legislative analysis. At a four-year institution, the savings would increase: In-state tuition at the University of Maryland, College Park this year is $8,655; nonresidents pay $25,795.

Legislative analysts estimate that the measure would cost the state about $800,000 in the first year, rising to $3.5 million annually by 2016. Opponents say the cost could be far higher.

Staff and attorneys with Casa de Maryland, a group that lobbied for the law, have requested copies of all of the petitions with plans to review and possibly challenge signatures.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has raised questions about the legality of petitions generated through a website set up by petition organizers.

The 75,000 signatures turned last week in to the Office of the Secretary of State were divided up by county and transferred to local election boards. The boards have until July 20 to finish counting.

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