By Sarina Trangle
Queens’ state senators unanimously voted for the Dream Act Monday, but failed to muster enough votes to overcome opposition by two fellow Democrats and the GOP.
After passing the state Assembly 83-47 in late February, legislation authorizing undocumented students who graduate from high schools in New York to apply for college financial aid was sent to the Senate.
The Dream Act did not emerge from any committee before coming to the Senate floor, legislators and advocates said. Rather Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), whose Independent Democratic Conference shares control of the chamber with Senate Republicans, put the bill up for a vote without much advanced notice.
The measure came two votes shy of the 32 needed to pass a bill, with support from all seven of the borough’s senators.
Two Democrats — Sens. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) and Ted O’Brien (D-Rochester) — voted against the legislation, helping Republicans rack up 29 negative votes.
Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who sponsored the Senate’s version of the Dream Act, said he did not expect the bill to make it to the Senate floor during an election year and was pleased it nearly amassed a majority of votes.
“The tides are going to be on our side. The fact that we had 30 votes sends a loud message that the majority of the members are there,” Peralta said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said she thought the IDC, a five-member group that Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) recently joined, was posturing by bringing the floor to a vote without recruiting Republican support.
“To claim that this was a bipartisan effort, nothing could be further from the truth,” Stavisky said, noting that it was unusual for measures sent from the Assembly to bypass the committee process or for votes to be called with such little notice. “At 5:30 or 6 p.m., the galleries were empty. If they had really intended to pass the bill, they would have had people in the galleries.”
As the vote approached, Peralta said he was confident because he had been told four Republicans were close to supporting the Dream Act. But none of those votes materialized.
The IDC has said it fulfilled its promise to get the bill to the floor and the mainstream Democrats failed to align all their members behind it.
“We did exactly what we were asked to do,” Avella said. “Unfortunately, the Senate Dems couldn’t get all of their members in the chamber to vote for it… If those two Democrats had voted for it, it would have passed.”
Meanwhile, proponents of the bill, like Natalia Aristizabal, blamed all Senate leaders.
“All of this is an orchestrated move to kill the bill ahead of time because we were getting momentum,” said Aristizabal, a youth organizer with Make the Road New York, an organization advocating for Latino and low-income New Yorkers. “They didn’t want to give us the time to get the right pieces in place.”
Aristizabal led Make the Road New York in petitioning on behalf of the Dream Act in Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr.’s (D-Howard Beach) district.
The group targeted him because he was the only Democratic senator from the city, excluding Felder, who caucuses with Republicans, to not back the bill.
Addabbo initially withheld his support because he had concerns about how the bill would be financed.
The senator said he felt comfortable voting for it after Gov. Andrew Cuomo said if the Dream Act passed, he would include money for its implementation in the budget.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli estimated in May that it would cost about $20 million to extend financial assistance eligibility to those in the country illegally, but hypothesized that the cost would be mitigated by the tax income and other economic benefits reaped from a better-educated workforce.
Peralta said he and Dream Act supporters are pushing for the bill to be attached to vital parts of the state budget so that legislators would have trouble voting it down.
“The legislative leaders have two weeks to negotiate,” he said. “They’re hammering it out now.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at email@example.com.