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In-State Tuition OKd for Migrants

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis Thursday signed legislation allowing undocumented immigrants who are longtime residents and California high school graduates to pay the same tuition at state colleges as other residents.

The Democratic governor, culling through 360 bills that must be signed or vetoed by Sunday, also approved bills aimed at protecting consumers, including one that seeks to restrict some unscrupulous lending practices and another that aims to provide people with additional protection against identity theft.

In one of his more closely watched actions, Davis signed legislation that permits undocumented students to pay the less expensive in-state tuition at California’s state universities and community colleges, as long as they attended high schools in the state for three years and are seeking to become legal residents. Currently, they must pay tuition at the high rates charged to residents of other states.

At state universities, undergraduate fees are $1,839 a year for residents, though nonresidents pay $7,380. Community college fees are $11 per unit for Californians; nonresidents pay $130.

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The bill does not apply to the University of California. UC regents could, however, implement a policy granting in-state tuition to those students. Residents pay $3,964 in annual tuition at the University of California; nonresident fees are more than $10,000.

“Kids who grew up and graduated from high school here should not be priced out of a future,” Davis said in a statement announcing that he had signed the bill, AB 540 by Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh (D-Los Angeles).

The measure does not say whether the students will be eligible for aid in the form of state-funded grants to pay tuition. To gain votes in the Legislature and help secure Davis’ support, Firebaugh deleted provisions that would have permitted low-income students to obtain Cal Grants, which cover tuition at state universities.

A legislative analysis of the measure calculated that an additional 500 to 1,500 students may enroll at universities under terms of the bill. The cost to the state would be fairly small because the students may not be eligible for state aid.

Several immigrant rights advocates had pushed for passage of the measure, and Mexican President Vicente Fox urged in March that Davis allow Mexicans who are living in California and are seeking legal residency to pay the lower tuition rates. Davis vetoed similar legislation last year, citing concerns that it might have required California to end its practice of charging higher tuition to out-of-state residents.

Acting on another piece of legislation that attracted significant attention, Davis signed a bill to help prevent so-called predatory lending, in which lenders make high-interest loans to people with poor credit histories and heavy debt. When the consumers default, they can lose their homes.

The bill, AB 489 by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), bars lenders from giving loans based on the amount of equity a borrower has. Rather, lenders must take into account the borrower’s ability to make the payments. It also bans some balloon payments.

The law applies to refinancing of home loans and to home equity loans. Backers of the measure say the elderly and low-income people who speak little English often are targets of such practices.

Davis also signed legislation, SB 168 by state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), seeking to prevent identity theft by limiting access to Social Security numbers, which are essential to open bank accounts and obtain credit. In addition, credit reporting agencies will be required to provide consumers with personal identification numbers so they can limit access to their credit reports.

In a third consumer-related measure, Davis signed legislation by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) that requires credit card companies to provide customers with estimates of the time it would take to pay off their debts, plus total interest costs, if they make only minimum monthly payments. Hertzberg softened the bill, AB 865, after Davis vetoed a tougher measure last year.

In other actions, Davis signed legislation that:

* Earmarks $8.4 million in federal tax money to counties to fund drug testing of addicts diverted from jails and prisons under terms of Proposition 36, the initiative approved by voters last year that requires treatment for users rather than incarceration. Davis used his line item veto authority to cut $9.6 million in state money for drug testing. SB 223 by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco).

* Prohibits the Department of Motor Vehicles from imposing $6 fees on people to obtain disability placards. The bill also eliminates the fee for temporary disability placards for those with ongoing disabilities who are visiting the state. AB 677 by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

* Requires the state Department of Education to develop plans to reduce bullying at public schools, and to give the plans to school districts so educators can guard against the practice.


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