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Democrats lose on 'Dream Fund' in Albany but gain election issue

A bill that would enable illegal immigrants to obtain state-funded college financial aid has failed in the State Legislature, setting up an election fight for New York's immigrant vote this fall.

The "Dream Fund" bill, which is related to national efforts to help illegal immigrants, is one of several measures being either discarded or rushed to approval in the last two days of the regular session. Lawmakers wrapped up diverse bills Wednesday, including the final votes to create a new agency to better protect disabled people in state facilities.

The tuition aid bill, sponsored by Democrats, would allow illegal immigrants to apply for assistance aid such as grants offered by the Tuition Assistance Program. The measure was pushed hard by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

The measure overwhelmingly passed the Democrat-led Assembly, but the Senate's Republican majority wouldn't bring it to the floor. That will make treatment of illegal immigrants a campaign issue for Senate Democrats, who will seek to win the majority in the fall elections.

"For all these young dreamers, New York again has the opportunity to lead the way," said Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya, D-Queens.

"This is a win-win for New York. This is an opportunity to for us to educate a young generation that's coming up. Most of these kids have called this country their home for a majority of their lives."

President Obama's new immigration policies and the DREAM Act pushed by congressional Democrats have made treatment of illegal immigrants a major presidential campaign issue.

"This is an issue of fairness, and it goes right to the core of us as New Yorkers and Americans," said State Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein, D-Bronx.

The Senate's Republican majority had no immediate comment. Republicans nationally, including presidential candidate Mitt Romney, walk a fine line between helping illegal immigrants and not wanting to appear soft on the crime by enabling illegal entry into the United States.

Among other developments:

*The Assembly and Senate were scheduled to vote late Wednesday to approve Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal for the Justice Center to protect 1 million physically, mentally and emotionally disabled New Yorkers in state care. The bill includes a special prosecutor and inspector general to investigate the thousands of abuse complaints each year.

*A bill failed that would have defined "autism," as a way to make sure thousands of New Yorkers suffering from it aren't omitted under a new, federal definition now being proposed. Assemblyman Thomas J. Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, drummed up 72 sponsors in the 150-member Assembly but couldn't get leaders to report the bill out of committees.

*The film and television industry will get a boost in its often-criticized tax break. The Assembly and Senate voted to increase the post-product tax credit for work done in New York to 30 percent. It had been 10 percent. Under the bill, postproduction work such as editing will get the same 30 percent tax credit as production work -- actual filming -- in New York. Critics have said the multibillion-dollar industry requires no incentives, especially since school aid and other critical areas have seen cuts or flat spending over the last five years.

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