Bill would ease tuition for tribal members

DENVER — Any Native American in the nation whose tribe has a historical connection to Colorado would qualify for in-state tuition under a bill that won approval in a House committee Wednesday.

The measure, HB1124, would apply to all public institutions of higher learning, including Colorado Mesa University, except for Fort Lewis College in Durango. That school already offers free college tuition to any federally recognized tribal member.

Currently, there are 48 American Indian tribes that have historic ties to the state, according to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who introduced the bill, said it’s not unprecedented to offer in-state tuition to people who aren’t Colorado residents.

“We see it with Olympic athletes, we see it with Russian and Chinese students who are studying to get master’s degrees in public administration ... we see it for Canadian military personnel,” Salazar said. “There’s a definite policy reason for having HB1124 passed ... and that is we recognize that American Indians were forcibly removed from their homeland and had it not been for that, they would be receiving in-state tuition in the state.”

While a fiscal analysis of Salazar’s bill says the measure would cost the state about $5 million in lost tuition revenue, the lawmaker said that doesn’t account for the additional tuition the schools would received from increased enrollment, which is estimated to be about 2,700.

Several witnesses testified in favor of the measure, which cleared the committee on a bipartisan 9-4 vote, but one person didn’t much care for it.

Because of a hearing impediment, that person, Arapahoe County resident J.M. Fay, had her testimony read by Salazar.

In that testimony, Fay questioned what other out-of-state minority groups would be offered in-state tuition, noting that last year the Legislature approved in-state tuition status for the children of people living in Colorado without legal residency status.

“By the same logic, African-Americans were brought here as slaves, so as they lost so much are we going to need to look for a bill this session or next on maybe giving them in-state tuition?” wrote Fay, who lost a bid for House District 41 as an unaffiliated candidate in 2012. “Maybe we also need to give in-state (tuition) to little green men from Mars because they can’t live on Mars? We need lawmakers who put the welfare of our state above themselves to spend the people’s money to benefit legal people of our state who don’t spend our money frivolously.”

Others, however, said the bill was the right thing to do for Native Americans who might already be Colorado residents had it not been for a history of chasing them out of the state.

Salazar also said that the measure would help pull some out of poverty.



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