Opponents trying to overturn the Dream Act—a new law allowing undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition rates—appear to be within reach of the number of signatures required to bring the issue to referendum in the 2012 general election. According to the State Board of Elections, over 41,000 signatures, or about 75 percent of the required petition signatures, have been validated, leaving petitioners about 14,500 to collect by the June 30 deadline.
Brad Botwin, founder of Help Save Maryland, a Rockville based advocacy group against undocumented people said he’s cautiously optimistic about reaching their goal.
“I have not experienced such unity among Maryland citizens on an issue since 9/11. It’s a new day in Maryland and the in-state tuition petition is leading the way.”
Efforts to collect petition signatures began in mid-April only days after the general assembly passed a bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges and eventually four-year institutions, providing certain criteria is met. Newly formed Maryland Tea Party groups with help from the state Republican Party and some local Republican groups have led the petition effort across the state.
The group aggressively surpassed the first benchmark of 18,579 petition signatures that was due on May 30th. Over 52,000 signatures were turned in, according to state board elections director Donna Duncan.
“I am encouraged by the results so far, but this petition drive is nowhere near completed,” said Del. Neil Parrott, (R). Parrott is one of two leaders spearheading the petition effort at MDPetitions.comand a former Hagerstown Tea Party leader.
“We are working at an all out sprint now to reach our goal of getting over 100,000 signatures by the end of June,” Parrott said.
Advocates of the new law, including Casa de Maryland, an immigrants’ rights advocacy group, were initially unconcerned with petition efforts.“We understand that people are attempting to collect signatures to put the vote to referendum. They have a difficult road to climb. We are not currently paying much attention to the effort but if they reach the end of May with a count that satisfies the statutory standard, we’ll take a second look,” said Susana Flores, Casa de Maryland spokesperson, in early May.
However, actions allegedly taken by a Casa member at the Rockville Hometown Holidays event Memorial Day weekend indicate Casa may now be concerned. Petition organizers at the event, who used space reserved by the Montgomery County Republican Party, claim Casa community organizer, Kim Propeack, was trying to keep people from signing the petition and was harassing them.
“Propeack would walk right up to the people and stop short,” said Gaithersburg resident and District 39 Republican Central Committee Member, Jeff Brown. “[She] did it repeatedly and waited until people were signing the petition. The idea was to make people make mistakes. It was harassment.”
Propeack denied any wrong doing and said she was only trying to clarify misinformation presented by the petitioners. “I attended the Hometown festival to provide accurate information to voters about the Maryland DREAM Act because the petitioners were misrepresenting its provisions and impacts,” Propeack said. “I approached people and asked them to speak with me before [they] decided to sign. I never blocked anyone from signing a petition.”
Over 500 signatures were collected at the weekend event, Botwin said.
The in-state tuition law will go into effect July 1, unless petition efforts are successful. If 55,736 signatures are turned in by June 30, and validated, implementation of the new law will be suspended and the issue will be put to the voters in the 2012 general election. This year new petition signature guidelines were implemented as a result of a 2010 lawsuit brought by the Montgomery County Volunteer Firefighters Association after 63 percent of petition signatures gathered in a petition drive were thrown out due to invalid signatures.