Colorado State Representative Crisanta Duran hugs high school student Cesiah Trejo, after Trejo spoke at a news conference and rally presenting a bill that
Colorado State Representative Crisanta Duran hugs high school student Cesiah Trejo, after Trejo spoke at a news conference and rally presenting a bill that could make the children of illegal immigrants eligible for in-state tuition, at the State Capitol in Denver, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. (Brennan Linsley/AP)

A hearing room at the state Capitol is packed this afternoon with high school students and other supporters of a bill that would allow children of undocumented immigrants to attend public colleges at the in-state tuition rate.

There's little doubt the bill will clear the Democratic-controlled Senate Education Committee by this evening, though the question is whether it will pass with any Republican support.

After published reports that freshman state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs and a member of the committee, said he would support the bill, a firestorm started on his Facebook page.

Former state Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, a key supporter of Hill's in a GOP primary for the Senate seat, ripped him on Hill's own Facebook page.

"When I endorsed Owen Hill for Senate, I had no idea he would abandon the Republican platform on the issue of providing illegal aliens in-state tuition," Schultheis wrote. "First and foremost, Republicans should be focused on upholding the rule of law. Had I known that once a senator, he would have abandoned that key principle to liberty and freedom, I would not have endorsed him."

Even former state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs and Hill's primary opponent, chimed in on the Facebook flame-fest.

"I never would support the current version of the ASSET bill," Liston wrote. "It only encourages illegal behavior by the parents."

Hill declined to comment on how he would vote when The Denver Post contacted him, saying only that he would discuss it after the committee had taken action on the bill.

Under Senate Bill 33, students who graduate from high school and have attended a Colorado school for at least three years would be eligible for the in-state tuition rate regardless of their immigration status.

The move comes after two years of failed attempts to pass a compromise bill permitting undocumented immigrants to pay tuition lower than out-of-state rates but higher than in-state rates. However, that was under a split legislature in which Republicans controlled the House.

Now, Democrats hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate and a 37-28 majority in the House.

Compromise versions of the bill the last two years excluded the undocumented immigrant students from getting something called the College Opportunity Fund scholarship, which is a subsidy given to all Colorado students who get the in-state rate.

The subsidy, which is $1,116 for a student taking 18 credit hours, works as a sort of voucher, going with every student to their college of choice, and was created as a legal workaround so the state could increase funding to colleges without it counting against revenue limits under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

Under current tuition rates, an in-state student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder taking 18 credit hours pays $5,144 per semester. With the College Opportunity Fund scholarship added in, that rate falls to $4,028.

An out-of-state student, meanwhile, pays $14,976 in the same example.

The compromise approach attracted one or two Republicans but still failed. This year, Democrats want to give the College Opportunity Fund to the immigrant students, but still say they hope to pick up some Republican votes.

Legislative analysts estimate there are approximately 1,500 high school graduates each year in Colorado without legal immigration status, and of those, about 500 will attend college the first year the law takes effect. An additional 250 will take advantage of the new law each year after that until 2017, analysts predicted.

Based on those numbers, the new students would generate an additional $2 million in tuition for colleges and universities in the first year and $3 million the following year, money which also would be spent to educate those students. But because the 2013 version of the bill includes the College Opportunity Fund for the immigrant students, the state would spend $930,000 to subsidize the students in the first year and $1.4 million the following year, the analysis said.