Howard County Delegation Responds to DREAM Act Suit
State legislators react to a lawsuit intended to keep the act off the 2012 ballot.
Representatives of the Howard County delegation in the Maryland Statehouse were not surprised that supporters of a bill granting in-state tuition rates to some illegal immigrants are challenging the effort to put the issue on the ballot next year.
But they have different perspectives on why they believe that the petitions that led to getting the Maryland DREAM Act to referendum are or are not valid.
“This is one more indication of the necessity to clean up the law governing referenda in Maryland,” Delegate Elizabeth Bobo, D-12B said in an e-mail.
In April, the Maryland General Assembly passed the act, which would give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants that fulfilled several requirements, including graduating from a Maryland high school.
Opponents immediately began petitions, gathering more than 132,000 signatures. The Maryland State Board of Elections later certified 108,923 of the signatures as valid. The Board of Elections required 55,736 signatures to put the act on the ballot.
CASA de Maryland on Monday, Aug. 1, filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of more than 50,000 of the signatures, many of which were gathered online. Many of those were invalid, according to CASA, because “voter information was not filled out by the voter herself, as required by law, but was instead filled out by a computer program operated by the petition sponsors – a violation of Maryland state law.”
In a statement, CASA also claimed that the referendum itself violated the state constitution, which “forbids referenda on appropriations measures precisely to prevent the type of disruption of government programs that has occurred because of the effort to petition the Maryland Dream Act to referendum,” and cited two students who had “struggled and saved to attend community college.”
This claim is not valid, said Delegate Gail Bates, R-9A. Bates voted against the act and said in an e-mail: “The bill came out of Ways and Means and is a policy change, not an appropriation.”
Supporters of the bill are bringing the lawsuit, she said, because the number of certified signatures was too large to contest individually. “Their only option was to reject the website-generated forms, which are no more subject to fraud than hand-generated forms,” she said.
“I am confident the issue will be on the ballot for voters to decide.”
Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-9, said he, too, thinks the petition process was valid.
“This wasn’t a close petition drive,” he said in an interview with Patch. “It’s not like they got 56,001. They got more than double what they needed and it was clearly a bipartisan drive.”
It was, he said, an unusual show of support. “This the first time in 20 years that there’s been a petition drive that’s been successful to get something on the ballot. It’s not like Marylanders abuse the system.
“Referendum is a right that we should all cherish,” he said. “It’s the way in which the citizens can veto the legislation. I think it’s important to have that. There may be petitions I don’t agree with, but I certainly agree with their right to be conducted.”
Bobo, who voted for the Dream Act, said she thinks the Act is “good public policy for economic reasons among others,” but she also has concerns about the referendum process.
“For many years I have been working on and supporting legislation to remedy serious flaws in our referendum process,” she said in an e-mail.
“The law governing this process has been altered administratively leaving it very unclear and inconsistent and subsequently open to abuse by both petition gatherers and government.”
Although the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland is not involved in this suit, the group did send a letter last month to the State Board of Elections to make known its concerns about the electronic petition form used to gather signatures.