Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN - The Texas House on Sunday rejected a bill that would have limited the number of students automatically admitted to public universities under the state's top 10 percent law.

The House voted 75-64 against legislation that would have capped the number of automatically admitted students to half of a university's incoming freshman class.

Hours later, a walkout by opponents of House Speaker Tom Craddick halted supporters' attempts to garner enough support to bring the bill up for another vote. The session ends Monday evening, and it will be difficult for lawmakers to push the bill through before then.

Several House Democrats spoke against the bill, saying the current law sends students of all backgrounds the message that if they work hard and get good grades, they can get into one of the best schools.

"You don't have to be an athlete today, you don't have to be related to a large donor today, you don't have to be wealthy today, you don't have to be a legacy today. You have to perform," said Rep. Helen Giddings, a Democrat from Dallas.

The top 10 percent law was adopted after a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision made affirmative action illegal in Texas college admissions. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision, allowing universities to use race as one of many decision-making factors.

The current law primarily affects the University of Texas at Austin and, to a lesser degree, Texas A&M University in College Station. Seventy percent of this year's UT-Austin freshmen from Texas were automatically admitted under the law.

The rejected bill would have directed universities to admit students according to their percentile rank until the 50 percent cap is reached. Schools would then admit another batch of students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class through a holistic review process until 60 percent of the incoming freshman class is filled.

Students who are in the top 10 percent but do not make it into their top choice would be granted automatic admission to their second choice in that university system.

The House narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday that would have capped automatic admissions at 67 percent of a university's incoming freshman class.

Because that version differed from the one approved by the Senate, a committee of lawmakers from both chambers was appointed to broker a deal. The compromise bill largely mirrored the Senate's legislation.

The House's vote was unexpected because that chamber approved similar caps in 2003 and 2005 only to have them killed in the Senate, first by a filibuster and then by a technicality. The bill appeared poised to sail through the Legislature after Senate Democrats agreed to a drop their opposition because of a provision letting the cap expire in eight years.

UT-Austin has complained for years that the law limits its ability to recruit a well-rounded student body. It is the only university that already admits more than half of its freshman class under the top 10 percent law.

Families from competitive high schools also oppose the law, saying it forces talented students to leave the state for college.

The top 10 percent bill is SB101.