Tuition bill sponsor blasts colleague after defeat

Salazar rips fellow Adams County Democrat over her vote on bill

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A sponsor of a bill to ease tuition costs for American Indian college students accused a fellow Adams County Democrat of being "politically motivated" in her deciding vote to kill the legislation.

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, blasted Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, for voting against the bill during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on April 29.

Hodge's vote caused the bill to fail by a single vote, preventing it from being voted on by the full Senate.

"I'm extremely disappointed in my senator, Sen. Hodge, who overlaps my district, because she was the deciding vote on killing it," Salazar told Colorado Community Media. "And I think the community demands answers and the community should get answers."

But Hodge said her vote on the bill was nothing personal and that it had everything to do with the cost to the state.

"We have a lot of priorities, and we have to make tough choices sometimes," Hodge said.

Salazar's bill would have allowed out-of-state American Indian students to attend Colorado state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. House Bill 1124 would have applied to any student, regardless of where they reside in the country, so long as they are a member of one of the 48 federally-recognized Indian tribes with historical ties to Colorado.

The bill had passed the House with Republican support.

Salazar said he was particularly upset because he found out about the bill's demise as he was speaking to an American Indian group that was visiting the Capitol. After informing the group that the bill had died, Salazar said the audience reacted with "astonishment."

"This was the feel-good bill of the year … and I think there needs to be answers as to why this bill was killed," Salazar said. "I want to hear why Mary Hodge killed this bill."

Salazar said Hodge's opposition to the bill stems from his "staunch opposition" to a bill of Hodge's that died in the House earlier in the month.

Hodge was a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 93, which clarified that oil pipeline companies could acquire rights-of-way by eminent domain.

But Hodge said that "accusation is just silly" because she wasn't a primary sponsor of that legislation. Hodge did co-sponsor the bill, but did not carry it through the committee process.

Hodge said Salazar's bill cost too much. The bill would have increased state expenditures by at least $668,000 annually. But the biggest hit would have been to colleges and universities, which would have seen their revenues decrease by $5.3 million annually, had the bill passed.

"The bill would have taken $5 million from very strapped colleges and universities," she said.

Salazar considered the cost earlier and had once thought of scaling back the legislation to apply only to incoming students. But Salazar said he didn't end up doing that because it was his understanding that the bill was going to be funded in its original form.

Salazar said he will bring the bill back next year.

The bill's Senate sponsor shared Salazar's disappointment over the bill's defeat, but she hopes that Salazar learns not to take legislative losses so personally.

"One of the things you need to learn is you carry them, you don't marry them," said Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton.