COLUMBIA - The sponsor of a bill that would establish the Lowcountry's first major comprehensive research university said it would be a "remarkable accomplishment" if the bill passed the S.C. House in time to be considered this year.
The S.C. House's Thursday deadline looms this week as the House rushes to pass legislation during the final days that bills can usually be taken up by the state Senate. Even if a bill that would establish a newly-expanded University of Charleston makes the deadline, lawmakers said that the typically slow-moving state Senate doesn't take up all of the bills that pass the House.
Still, supporters of the bill say it has a chance, albeit a small one. Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, a key Senate leader, has already said there is not enough time this year to pass the bill.
The Charleston University bill is a compromise proposal after lawmakers backed off a plan to merge the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.
The bill stalled in recent days as many lawmakers were not aware that, in fact, the controversial merger plan had been taken off the table.
"It's tough to pass anything substantial no matter when you start, but to have started as late as we did . even if we don't get any further it's really remarkable" how far the bill has advanced, said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, a sponsor of the bill.
"I'm optimistic. I think we can get it across the hall (this year)."
Stavrinakis said that if the bill is passed by the Thursday deadline, the influence of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the newly named president of C of C and a longtime former Senate leader, could help the bill pass the Senate this year.
Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, was one of several lawmakers who requested more debate on the bill. She said she was not aware that the bill no longer requires a merger of C of C and MUSC.
"It's going to be a push because I know there are some reservations about it," Nanney said. "A lot of us need to have a better understanding of what they're trying to do."
The proposed new school would be governed by the same board of trustees that runs the College and its functions housed on the C of C campus. The new school would not affect the college's liberal arts degree programs.
While a University of Charleston already exists and offers some post-graduate degrees, the new school would be authorized to expand graduate offerings, including Ph.D.s, to fill specific workforce needs for the Lowcountry and the state, lawmakers said. Leadership at both MUSC and the College of Charleston have embraced the plan, which is scheduled for debate on the House floor.
The bill is a compromise to the merger plan, which prompted a loud outcry from both schools and some lawmakers who worried that a forced marriage between the College and MUSC would be difficult to implement and diminish the offerings of both.
The new University of Charleston would join the University of South Carolina, Clemson and MUSC as one of the state's established comprehensive research universities.
The bill is the result of a compromise reached by a seven-member committee appointed by Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, the influential Ways and Means chairman.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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