Yesterday, Senator Joyce Elliott (D) of Little Rock led an hour long hearing on the floor concerning legislation to allow undocumented immigrants, who have attended 3 years of high school in the state or obtained a G.E.D. in Arkansas, to pay in-state tuition rates for postsecondary education. Advocates testified for the Senate to invest in children who were brought to Arkansas and have succeeded in the school system. Republican legislators expressed concern that allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates would reward crime or tax the education system.
This hearing, a Committee of the Whole, effectively turns a regular floor session into a committee hearing replete with testimony from activists, business leaders, and educators. This maneuver results in a prolonged discussion on a pending piece of legislation. In effect, Elliott got a chance to showcase SB 915 and make her case with the help of some powerful testimony.
If Elliott sought to persuade Republican legislators, she may have been foiled by their conspicuous absence. Less than half of the Republican Senators were in the chamber throughout the duration of the testimony, while nearly every Democrat was seated.