COLUMBIA - It's looking like less of a possibility that Lowcountry lawmakers will walk away from this year's session with an expanded University of Charleston.
Six members from the House and Senate tasked with hashing out the differences of a bill that would establish the Lowcountry's first comprehensive research university debated for more than two hours on Tuesday, but reached no decision. They meet again on June 17.
The issue of contention lies in the fact that the bill is attached to the Clemson University Enterprise Act, which would allow Clemson and perhaps other schools less state oversight in pursuing capital projects.
During the discussion among the six lawmakers, Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said he didn't think the Clemson portion of the bill is good legislation, and House members have "great concerns" with the makeup of the bill. The Clemson act provides universities with good bond ratings regulatory relief for capital projects.
"I would find it very hard for the House to go along with the Enterprise Act as it's currently constituted," Merrill said after the hearing. "I have great respect for Clemson, but the fact is that they still are a public institution that uses public tax dollars. And if anything South Carolina State (University) has taught us, it's that right now there has to be more oversight, not less oversight."
Both sides of the debate have said that bare-knuckle politics have come into play as the bill was held up for weeks in the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia. During the final weeks of the session, Courson and Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, placed procedural holds on the bill.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said the Clemson Enterprise Act and the University of Charleston were attached because it was the only option at the time. Now, Clemson act supporters have to decide whether they're willing to accept the amended version of the bill, he said. There's a real possibility that neither side will get what they want, Grooms added.
If that happens, the process starts all over when the new session begins in January 2015.
"The bottom line is that the Clemson Enterprise Act was in the trash can and I was able to impress upon my friends in the House that this may be our only lifeline to save the College of Charleston legislation," Grooms said. "The Clemson folks, I think they need to understand, that their enterprise act, even a watered down version, is now in danger."