Gov. Inslee signs immigrant financial aid bill

Gov. Inslee signs immigrant financial aid bill
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, center, poses for a photo with a group of students, after he signed into law a measure that expands state financial aid to students living illegally in the country, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A measure that expands Washington state college financial aid to students in the U.S. without a legal status became law Wednesday with Gov. Jay Inslee's signature.

The law is a key victory for immigrant advocates who waded between feuding lawmakers in the Senate and the House and pushback from the more conservative quarters of the Republican party. The measure also becomes the first bill to be signed into law in the 2014 legislative session.

The Senate and House versions of the bill were almost identical but had two dueling names. The Senate's version, which was the one signed into law, was dubbed "The Real Hope Act" while "The Washington Dream Act" was the name the bill had in the House.

"Whatever you call it, what's important it's what it will do for thousands of bright and talented and very hard working students across the state of Washington," Inslee said at the bill signing ceremony. "Today we're allowing dreams to come true."

Signed in a ceremonial room in the Capitol, Inslee was surrounded by dozens of students, many whom identified themselves as "Dreamers" — the moniker students without legal status have taken in their cause.

The House version didn't identify a funding source, but the Senate proposal allocates $5 million through June 30, 2015, from the general fund to pay for the financial aid payments under the state need-grant program. The bill requires students to have received a high school diploma or equivalent in Washington state and to have lived in the state for at least three years before getting aid.

Following the formation of the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition in the state Senate last year, in which two Democrats defected to the GOP, the fate of the bill was in the hands of senators. In 2013, the House approved a version of the bill with bipartisan support, but the measure died in the Senate.

This year, the House passed the measure on the first day of the legislative session, immediately putting pressure on the Senate to act on it. The senators did, underlining their bill with $5 million in funding.

"The large bipartisan majorities that supported the Dream Act in our House and Senate is in striking contrast to what we have seen in Congress lately. Washington legislature's action is a testament to the power of organizing and the growing influence of the immigrant vote in Washington State," said Rich Stoltz, executive director of OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy group.