Legislative milestones

Civil unions, in-state tuition mark significant achievements for Colorado

The Colorado Legislature has wasted no time in its 2013 session taking on long-smoldering issues of great personal significance to many in the state, and of great moral significance to the state as a whole. In passing measures allowing civil unions for same-sex couples, and extending in-state college tuition rates to Colorado high school students who lack legal immigration status, the Legislature has affirmed the critical values of fairness and opportunity.

Senate Bill 11 passed the Colorado House of Representatives 39-26 on Tuesday; it passed in the Senate last month, when Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, was the only Republican to vote for the measure. Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, also voted for SB 11; Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose opposed the bill that gives same-sex couples rights equal to those enjoyed by married couples.

The approval comes after a similar measure was killed in the waning days of the 2012 session, and then stymied in a special session called by Gov. John Hickenlooper to consider the matter. It represents a significant step in deconstructing outdated barriers to equal citizenship for gay and lesbian people in Colorado. It also puts Colorado in the growing ranks of states that recognize same-sex partnerships and their value to individuals, families and communities. There are now 13 states that allow civil unions and six that sanction gay marriage. Colorado is on the right side of this issue, at long last.

With its passage of Senate Bill 33, the Legislature has eased another barrier: that of access to education. The measure, 10 years in the making, will extend in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students in Colorado, provided they have attended high school in the state for three years and embark upon a path to legal citizenship. Children brought to the United States illegally need not suffer the sins of their parents, and those who are eager to pursue higher education should not be limited by financial barriers, particularly when the state has already invested in their academic achievement during the K-12 years.

McLachlan voted yes on the measure, while Coram and Roberts opposed it. Roberts has long contended that offering discounted tuition is premature while the federal immigration system remains so dysfunctional, saying that those who obtain a college degree without legal immigration status will not be able to work in the United States legally upon graduation. That may be true, but that impasse is not reason enough to create a generation of under-educated immigrant children who would otherwise seek new challenges and opportunities. Those achievements contribute to an educated workforce that, collectively, increases productivity and innovation regardless of its members' national origin. Colorado can only benefit from such a formula.

There is much division and partisan bickering in the Colorado Legislature this session, with Republicans complaining about Democrats' handling of the process, as well as their positions on these seminal social issue measures. That is to be expected, but should not overshadow just how significant these legislative achievements are for Coloradans and Colorado. For doggedly pursuing civil unions for same-sex couples and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant Colorado high school students, the State Legislature deserves great recognition.