No excuses on the Dream Act

The 2014 legislative session could be more than just treading water. Monday’s throw-down-the-gauntlet House passage of the DREAM Act, 71-23, illustrates that politics and governing are not mutually exclusive.

The DREAM Act is a bipartisan proposal that would make undocumented Washington high-school graduates eligible for the state’s need grant, which helps the state’s poorest undergraduate students pursue degrees. It would pass the Senate tomorrow if a vote were scheduled. But there’s a hitch.

“The bill does not properly address the issue of how we deal with students not here on a legal status,” Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, told The Herald. Earlier this year, Bailey pointed to the state’s underfunded need grant as the primary obstacle. It’s an easy fix, especially if the Legislature embraces the funding recommendations of the Washington Student Achievement Council.

Both of Bailey’s Republican seatmates, Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes, voted to support the DREAM Act in 2013 and again Monday.

The DREAM Act only extends to Northwest students, many brought to the United States as toddlers, who already are woven into Washington’s social fabric. The bill piggybacks on President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order which created the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It’s an out-of-the-shadows path to education, to legal employment, to contributing to society.

Bailey emphasizes other legislative priorities, including SB 5318, which would limit the waiting time for veterans and active duty service members to be eligible for resident tuition.

“Providing access to our nation’s veterans and active duty service members to best use their education benefits is a top priority for me as well as Department of Defense officials,” Bailey said in a statement.

It’s an excellent bill that merits passage. But lawmaking isn’t a zero-sum game. The Senate and House can pass the veterans’ tuition bill as well as the DREAM Act.

Senate leader Rodney Tom says he supports the DREAM Act, but committee chairs make the call. It’s a wash-thy-hands, devolution of power model akin to the U.S. Senate of the 1950s, when Southern committee chairmen called the shots. Olympia in 2014 can do better.

Navigate political rhetoric with a magnetic needle set to “T” for truth. As Chico Marx said in Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

Not delivering on the DREAM Act (or transportation, for that matter) is the antithesis of leadership. Produce. Let the Senate vote.

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