FAMU, FIU to get new law schools

first_img May 15, 2000 Regular News FAMU, FIU to get new law schools Mark D. Killian Associate Editor When House and Senate conferees put the final touches on the state’s $50 billion budget May 3, $2.5 million each was appropriated for Florida A&M and Florida International universities to begin the planning process for launching two new public law schools. The Senate unanimously passed its bill authorizing the creation of the law schools May 2, and as this News went to press, the House was expected to follow suit before the session was scheduled to end May 5. The Governor also has expressed his support for the project. The bills are heralded as a way to increase minority membership in the Bar and bring lower-cost public law schools to Florida’s population centers in the middle and southeastern parts of the state. Both the Board of Regents and The Florida Bar are on record as favoring the expansion of pre-law programs and more minority scholarships as ways of increasing the number of minority lawyers. President Edith Osman said the Bar took its position in part because current law prohibits race-based admissions. “The Bar felt state funds would be better spent providing direct scholarships to minority law students, particularly at a time when our state has an abundance of lawyers,” Osman said. “If the two new schools become a reality, however, the Bar will provide any assistance it can to help them become top-flight institutions.” Senate sponsor Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, gave much of the credit for the measure’s passage to Senate President Toni Jennings, R-Orlando. “This would not have been possible without your support,” Diaz-Balart told Jennings on the Senate floor. “You have gone out of your way to make this possible.” Jennings also alluded to using the creation of the law schools as a bargaining chip with House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, who worked hard to secure funds to create a medical school at Florida State University, his alma mater. “The House issue was a medical school,” Jennings said. “The Senate issue became two law schools. Senators, I found something I thought was worth trading a medical school for, and that was two law schools.” Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters he will sign the legislation creating the new schools as long as the focus of the institutions is on recruiting black and Hispanic law students. “We’ve been working very hard with the sponsors for the last. . . 45 days to quietly go about creating a bill that will allow that to happen,” Gov. Bush said. The Senate bill sat dormant for more than half the session before finding its legs and breezing through two key Senate committees with no opposition, then being approved by the full Senate within two busy weeks. The Senate Education Committee unanimously moved SB 68 April 24, and the next day the Fiscal Policy Committee followed suit. Its companion, HB 2129 — by Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg — was pulled from the House Education Appropriations Committee May 3 and was set for a floor vote when this News went to press. According to figures presented to the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, the tab for establishing the law schools would be $29.5 million. Of that, $24.6 million would be for capital costs for FAMU and $2.7 million for operational costs. FIU, which says it has the buildings and capital already, would need $2.2 million for operations. If ultimately approved, the new schools would offer about 120 new full-time and 100 part-time seats. Diaz-Balart, though, said start-up costs should be lower for FAMU because it has obtained a free site for the law school, and the university plans to launch a capital campaign to raise additional monies. the time FAMU and FIU expect to graduate their first law students, the universities estimated annual operations costs would be $5.3 million for FAMU and $5.2 million for FIU. The Board of Regents has estimated the operating costs would be around $8 million each. Diaz-Balart said creating the two new public schools is a “common sense approach” to increasing the number of minority lawyers in the state. Currently, Diaz-Balart said, only 8 percent of the state’s lawyers are minorities, compared to 30 percent of the general population. He said creating the schools would provide minorities with access to legal education so they may enter a profession “that has been crucial to empower minorities.” “We also have great under-access to public law schools in the large metropolitan areas,” Diaz-Balart said, noting the FAMU school will be located in Central Florida and FIU’s in Miami. “The [FAMU] law school is proposed to be in Orlando in the Paramour area, because they have offered us the property, and we have spoken with the mayor there,” said Sen. Betty S. Holzendorf, D- Jacksonville. “It is very, very clear that in Central Florida there is a need for access to a public law school.” Officials in Tampa, however, also have contacted FAMU about locating the school in their community. A final decision on where the FAMU school will be located has yet to be determined. If both law schools are approved and opened, soon Florida could find itself with 10 law schools. The Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville received provisional accreditation from the ABA last year, becoming the state’s seventh accredited facility. The Barry School of Law in Orlando is hoping to obtain provisional accreditation shortly. FAMU, FIU to get new law schoolslast_img read more