Clinic students draft bill to make English as a Second Language courses more financially accessible to recent immigrants

McGeorge student, Knarik Melkonyan, testifying on AB 1232 in the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

McGeorge third-year law student, Knarik Melkonyan testified on AB 1232 - a bill she and her partner in McGeorge's Legislative & Public Policy Clinic drafted - in front of the California State Assembly's Committee on Higher Education. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law third-year and Capital Lawyering Concentration student Knarik Melkonyan recently gave testimony to the California Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education on Assembly Bill 1232. The bill was developed by Melkonyan and her partner in McGeorge’s Legislative and Public Policy Clinic, Mo Roeckl-Navazio. The legislation would allow recent immigrants to access English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at California Community Colleges for in-state tuition rates.

“McGeorge’s unique Legislative & Public Policy Clinic provides students with the opportunity to develop legislation that can impact the lives of millions of Californians,” said Adjunct Clinical Professor Aaron Brieno. “AB 1232 (McCarty) was developed through Knarik Melkonyan’s lived experience and reflects the important work the Clinic seeks to accomplish.”

The inspiration for the bill was drawn from Melkonyan and her parents’ experience immigrating to the United States from Armenia five and half years ago.

“When my family first arrived in the United States, we immediately realized that being proficient in English was essential for us to support ourselves and have the life we came to America to pursue,” Melkonyan told the Assembly Committee. “The one year residency requirement for in-state tuition places a great burden on immigrants who upon entering the United States do not have the financial resources to enroll in ESL classes and pay the non-resident tuition. The non-resident tuition is approximately five times higher than the in-state tuition.”

The goal of the bill is to make ESL courses accessible to immigrants at the in-tuition rate when they would otherwise have to pay the out-of-state rate. The cost difference is significant. In-state tuition at California Community Colleges is $46 per unit. Out-of-state tuition costs $225 per unit, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.

The experience of working on the bill has been satisfying in many ways for Melkonyan and Roeckl-Navazio, both of whom are considering careers in public policy after graduating from McGeorge in May.

“The fantastic real-life experience I am gaining through the Legislative & Public Policy Clinic working on AB 1232 is personally satisfying because of the impact it will have on the immigrant community in California,” Melkonyan said. “It is also beneficial as I consider a career in public service.”

“Participating in the Legislative & Public Policy Clinic and gaining the practical experience supporting a bill through the legislative process will be invaluable for me going into a career in public policy,” Roeckl-Navazio said.

In prior legislative sessions student have worked on legislation changing evidence rules to treat discredited forensic testimony as false evidencebanning the use of carbon dioxide gas for euthanizing animals, and increasing access to justice for survivors of domestic violence. In 2021, a first-in-the-nation bill requiring hospitals to allow the use of cannabis for pain relief for terminally ill patients that Clinic students worked on was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“We are so proud of our students’ legislative accomplishments,” said Erin O’Neal Muilenburg, Director of McGeorge’s Capital Center for Law and Policy. “McGeorge’s Legislative & Public Policy Clinic provides our students with an unparalleled opportunity to not only study the law, but shape it. It is exciting to be able to prepare students like Knarik and Mo for meaningful careers at the intersection of law and public policy.”