By Daniel Menefee
An immigrant advocacy group argued in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Friday to invalidate a referendum petition meant to strike down a new law granting in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.
The law was held up last July when a petition drive led by Republican delegates gathered twice the signatures needed to put the measure on November’s ballot.
Lawyers for the advocacy group argued that the law is a state appropriation to community colleges. Laws that appropriate funds are exempt from referendum under Article 16 of the Maryland Constitution.
“This is a spending bill,” said Joseph Sandler, counsel to the immigrant advocacy group, Casa de Maryland, six registered voters, and two anonymous students. “Any laws assigned money for a particular purpose is an appropriation.”
He said the new law assigned funds to benefit a particular group and may not be overturned at the ballot box.
Sandler’s case for a “spending bill” relies heavily on a fiscal note from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, which said it would cost $3.5 million to implement the law.
Lawyers for MDPetitions.com, a group founded by Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, to strike down the law by referendum, argued before Circuit Court Judge Ronald Silkworth that the law is not a spending bill — because no taxpayer dollars were appropriated to carry out the law.
“In order for it to be an appropriation, Maryland law clearly says you have to set aside a certain sum for a particular purpose,” said attorney Paul Orfanedes of Judicial Watch representing MDPetitions.com. “This is a policy bill; no money has been appropriated.”
Orfanedes argued too that Casa de Maryland had failed to show damages to its clients and the anonymity of two plaintiffs makes it impossible for the legal system to award a remedy.
“There is no affidavit showing who they are, much less how they’ve been injured,” Orfanedes argued. He said that no proof was presented to show they were denied access to a community college while the law is in limbo.
Sandler said anonymity was granted to the students to protect them from public intimidation.
Parrott spoke outside the court house after the hearing and called the attempt to invalidate the referendum petition a “frivolous lawsuit.”
“They’re grasping at straws to say this is an appropriations bill. They want to cheat Maryland voters from being able to vote on this in November. It’s simply not fair, and it’s not going to work. Judge Silkworth is going to see that this is not an appropriations bill.”
Parrott also believes Marylanders will reject the law at the ballot box in November.
“Marylanders are going to say they want to follow existing immigration laws,” Parrott said.