By Len Lazarick

Students in favor of in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants lobbied legislators Friday.

The Senate will have a full-scale debate on a bill authorizing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrant children who graduated from Maryland high schools after a committee approved it 7-4 on Wednesday.

In a major change to the legislation, the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee specified that any immigrant who qualifies must attend community college first, and get an associate’s degree or earn 60 credits before going on to a four-year state university.

To qualify, students must attend a Maryland high school for at least two years, provide proof that their parents or guardians have paid taxes, and apply to be legal permanent residents.

“We chose to ratchet back the bill,” said Sen. Paul Pinsky, the floor leader. “We listened to some of the concerns … to tighten up the bill.”

Senate President Mike Miller had predicted in January that the measure would end up applying only to community colleges, along with the other restrictions.

On Friday, Miller suggested that the debate on the controversial method be put off till Tuesday. A series of questions from Senate Minority Whip E.J. Pipkin, as well as two Democrats, indicated that bill faces serious challenges and intense debate.

“What this bill creates is a new financial burden for community colleges, doesn’t it?” Pipkin asked, wondering what the cost to community colleges would be.

The bill’s fiscal note estimates that it would cost the local colleges $778,000.

With such a price tag, Sen. Jim Brochin, a Towson Democrat, wondered why the bill hadn’t been referred to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee for review.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore City, said the amendments to the bill makes “it sound like this is overly onerous.”

Pinsky noted that 10 states already provide in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, including California, Texas and New York.

Several Montgomery County residents are suing Montgomery College for already offering county tuition rates for anyone who has graduated from a county high school, regardless of immigration status.