Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee shot down a proposed amendment by Gov. George Deukmejian on Monday and approved legislation that would provide an additional $50 million to continue English and civics classes for immigrants.
The committee vote was along party lines, with eight Democrats voting for the measure and three Republicans opposed. But ultimately, the legislation will need Republican votes, because it requires two-thirds majorities in both the Senate and Assembly.
Republicans said Deukmejian will veto the bill unless it contains a cap on the number of instruction hours available to the immigrants. The amendment proposed by the governor that was rejected Monday would have imposed a 100-hour limit per student.
Money for the classes is coming from the federal government under the 1986 amnesty program set up to grant legal status to immigrants then living in the United States illegally. One of the requirements imposed by Congress is that those seeking amnesty successfully complete a minimum of 40 hours of instruction in English and civics.
The problem facing the Legislature is that even though the federal government has provided enough money for the program, Deukmejian spread the allotment over a five-year period. State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said the program is $50 million short of what will be necessary to complete the current budget year.
Honig told reporters several hours before the hearing that unless the legislation is enacted in early April he will have to tell school districts and community organizations that there will not be enough money to last through the current budget year, which ends June 30.