By Jessica Talson, Capital News Service
An Anne Arundel County Court has ruled that MDPetitions.com can intervene in a lawsuit between proponents of the recently passed Maryland DREAM Act and the Maryland State Board of Elections. The group will legally be able to defend the petition drive that put the DREAM Act to a referendum.
DREAM ACT proponents had sued the Maryland Board of Elections to stop the law from going to referendum on the grounds that tens of thousands of the signatures were invalid.
MDPetitions.com, led by Delegates Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington County, and Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, opposes the DREAM Act and collected the signatures to put the law to a vote.
Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the DREAM Act into law in May after heated debate in the General Assembly. The act allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at community colleges and state universities if they meet certain requirements, including having graduated from a Maryland high school and attended that school for at least three years. They are also required to attend a community college first, and then transfer to a university to finish their four-year degree.
Undocumented students who receive in-state tuition rates must prove that they or their parents paid Maryland income taxes for the three years before high school graduation, and continue to file taxes until college graduation.
After the bill passed, opponents gathered signatures for a petition that would bring the bill to a referendum. MDPetitions.com collected signatures both in person and online.
McDonough is confident that opposition to the DREAM Act spans political party lines, and that Marylanders would reject the law in a referendum.
"Fifty percent of the signatures were not Republicans," McDonough said, referring to the petition to put the DREAM Act to a vote.
According to Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group that represents MDPetitions.com, the petition drive collected nearly twice the number of signatures required to put the new law to a referendum.
The Maryland Board of Elections certified the petition in July and the DREAM Act is scheduled to go to a vote in November 2012.
Among other reasons, the lawsuit filed by CASA de Maryland and other proponents of the DREAM Act alleges that more than 50,000 of the petition signatures found valid by the Board of Elections were actually invalid under Maryland law. The group argues that the majority of the invalid signatures were filled out by a computer program operated by the petition sponsors, not by the actual voter, which they say is a violation of Maryland law.
The lawsuit also says that thousands of additional signatures appeared on petition forms that did not contain a summary of the text of the law, which is also a violation of state law.
If the bill does go to a vote, advocates say they will rally support and educate Marylanders about what the bill actually does.
"There's this idea that the students are somehow taking advantage of the system they haven't paid into, but under the Maryland DREAM Act it wouldn't be true," said Meredith Curtis, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Maryland, which supports the DREAM Act.