Created on Thursday, 02 July 2015 17:04 | Written by Peter Wong/Capital Bureau

SALEM — Oregon is a legislative vote away from clearing the way for state grants for Oregon university students who were brought to the United States as children but lack immigration papers.

A 34-25 vote Thursday by the House, which voted on party lines, sent Senate Bill 932 back to the Senate for concurrence on amendments. The Senate passed the original version, also largely on party lines.

The vote followed a verbal dust-up between a supporter and opponents of the bill.

According to state estimates, a maximum of 1,000 such students would be eligible for Oregon Opportunity Grants — and that 350 of them were likely to obtain them.

Rep. Joe Gallegos, D-Hillsboro, said about 75 students are enrolled at state universities under the terms of 2013 legislation allowing them to qualify for in-state tuition rates if they meet specified requirements.

“It makes no sense to open the door to students and then provide no assistance for them to be successful,” said Gallegos, the bill’s floor manager. “To me, what that means is a return on our investment.”

The two-year budget for Oregon Opportunity Grants will be increased by 24 percent, to $141 million. According to estimates, 84,000 students will receive average grants of $1,650.

But a couple of the five Republicans who voted for the 2013 in-state tuition law said they believed it would not extend to eligibility for state financial assistance.

“We are going to do now what we said was not going to happen,” said Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oregon is among 18 states with some form of in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, who do not qualify for federal aid. Oregon would join California, Washington and a few other states that allow state aid.

The House debate was interrupted when Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale, criticized the opposition voiced by some of his colleagues as he spoke in favor of the bill. His remarks triggered a response by Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, who had just spoken against the bill.

A House rule says: “In speaking, the member must confine discussion to the question under debate, avoid personalities and not impugn the motives of another member's vote or argument.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, spoke after a timeout lasting several minutes, during which members of both parties attempted to calm things.

“I want to point out that it is really important not to impugn or infer someone’s motives here on this floor,” Kotek said. “I want to say that the member from East Multnomah County was inappropriate in what he was saying.”

Gorsek then rose and said: “I understand that I did something extremely inappropriate – and I am extremely embarrassed by that.”