A bill in Colorado that would have provided prospective Native American college students with in-state tuition died Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Hours after the bill was defeated by a 3-4 vote, State Senator Mary Hodge – the only Democrat to vote against it – told ICTMN that the potential cost of the bill was too great and that there was an issue of “reparations.”
“I don’t know how long we can make reparations [to Native Americans] or how far we’d have to go back,” she said. “I guess my point is we can’t fix what we did.”
House Bill 1124, sponsored by State Representative Joseph Salazar, was to provide a Native American of a federally recognized tribe with resident status when applying to a state-supported institution if the student’s tribe had “historical ties” to what is now Colorado territory. “Often due to circumstances beyond their control, many American Indian tribes and members of American Indian tribes have been forced to relocate across state lines, far from their historical home places,” the bill reads.
“Those people are already gone,” Sen. Hodge said. “At what point do we say ‘we’re sorry’ and move on? And I don’t know if we’re there yet.”
Rep. Salazar told ICTMN that he is “absolutely baffled” by Sen. Hodge’s comments concerning reparations to Native Americans. “This isn’t reparations. This is recognizing that something has to be done in the state of Colorado to encourage native youth to come here to get a higher education,” he said. “The idea of reparations is just absolutely offensive.”
Rep. Salazar said the bill had garnered bipartisan support and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was behind it. He said Sen. Hodge did not inform him that she was against the bill before the committee hearing.
Rep. Salazar was in another meeting about to speak on the merits on the bill when he received a text message from a senator on the senate appropriations committee who informed him that Sen. Hodge had voted against his bill, essentially killing it.
“My aide who was with me saw the look on my face,” he said.
Rep. Salazar added that Sen. Hodge’s ‘no’ vote was political retribution for a senate bill he voted against last month. “This is an affront to native people’s everywhere, and Mary Hodge should be ashamed of herself,” he said. “I’m not afraid to call her out. I’m not afraid to hold her accountable.”
State Senator Lois Tochtrop, who was the Senate sponsor of the bill, told ICTMN that the bill was killed because of a “funding issue… We just don’t have funding for some of these programs. There was just a lot of issues. It was just low on the priority list for the needs of the state.”
Sen. Tochtrop said she told Sen. Hodge that she was “extremely disappointed” with her vote, but that she understood why she voted against the bill.
Sen. Hodge said, based on speculative calculations, the state’s “cash-strapped” colleges and universities would suffer a loss of upwards of $5.3 million in tuition monies if the bill passed. “I’m looking for money in the couch cushions,” she said. “Five million isn’t a huge hit, but it’s a hit.”
Rep. Salazar said the projected $5 million wouldn’t have come out of the state budget and the funds to support the law were available. He said he plans to reintroduce the bill next session and added that this bill has tried and failed since 1969. “It has never gotten this far – ever,” he said.
Sen. Tochtrop said she is term-limited and won’t be able to sponsor the bill again in 2015.