COLUMBIA - Neither side won on Tuesday, when Senate and House members were unable to reach a compromise with the University of Charleston expansion bill.
Lawmakers have been trying to negotiate a compromise for weeks that both sides could take back to each body for a vote. But with neither side willing to budge, the discussion simply ended without a vote.
For some members of the joint House and Senate conference committee, the issue of contention was that the bill was attached to the Clemson University Enterprise Act, which would allow Clemson less state oversight in pursuing capital projects. For the Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, the concern was the College of Charleston's potential acquisition of the Charleston School of Law.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said lawmakers interested in the U of C expansion measure will have to start all over again in January.
"For some reason, the majority leader does not like the idea of Charleston succeeding at anything," said Grooms of Peeler. "He won today. When it comes to the world of Charleston, we lost a major battle today."
Peeler had been advocating for delaying the passing of the measure until January when lawmakers return to Columbia for session.
"The possibility of the College of Charleston acquiring the bankrupt law school is a concern but it's not the only concern," Peeler said. During a later hearing, he said the U of C portion of the measure gave him heartburn.
The bill would have established an expanded University of Charleston. Lowcountry lawmakers said such a school would drive significant private donations and offer needed postgraduate programs catering to the state's business community.
College of Charleston Board of Trustees Chairman Gregory Padgett made similar arguments during Tuesday's hearing to panel members but was unable to sway senators.
"Over time, if we don't meet the business needs ... it's not about attracting businesses, it's about maintaining the businesses that we have," Padgett said.
Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla, said the Senate's members would have liked to have voted on the bill, but a delay is part of the process.
"If we have to wait, sometimes we end up with a better product," Alexander said. "I have faith in the process. I certainly was supportive, but I had to have some give and take from their side."
But Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said there was more at play during this process than the potential benefits the measure would've had for C of C or Clemson.
"I think Sen. Peeler needs to take a long look at what he's instilling in the process as far as regionalism," Merrill said. "Because quite frankly, while I like (Peeler), he let some personal issues cloud his judgment and it's to the detriment of the state."
Merrill said the dispute between both sides was a side effect of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell's transition out of the Statehouse and into his role as president of C of C. If there was "true leadership" in the Senate, the process both sides went through would have never happened, he said.
"It's chaotic over there and it's difficult to deal with," Stavrinakis said. "They gave nothing. They wanted their bill. They said Enterprise or nothing."
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.
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