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Tampa makes case for FAMU law school

Lawmakers are close to a final vote on the law school, which is likely to be in Central Florida. But where? Tampa is competing for it with Orlando.

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By TIM NICKENS and STEVE HUETTEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and area state lawmakers have their eyes on a proposed Florida A&M University law school that will be ready for a final vote next week in the Legislature.

There's one hitch, however: The competing location is Orlando, which has already found a site and has Senate President Toni Jennings in its corner.

Greco has written letters to area legislators asking them to support locating the law school in Tampa, contacted local FAMU alumni and asked a friend he wouldn't identify to make a personal pitch to the university's president.

"There are a lot of alumni here," Greco said, "and I think it would grow. Several people are working it for me."

The city is waiting to hear from FAMU officials how much land the school would need and what kind of location they want, he said.

"I've talked to people," said Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, who would not be specific and is one of the bill's prime supporters. "Tampa would be the place where I would prefer to see it."

Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he also has heard that Tampa locations are being scouted for the new law school. He would not discuss details.

The legislation creating the Florida A&M law school does not specify where it would be located, but from the beginning, it has been expected that it would be in Central Florida instead of at the school's campus in Tallahassee. The Senate bill was refined Friday to say a new school would be in the Interstate 4 corridor.

But supporters of the school always have said they wanted it in an urban area so it would be easily accessible to low-income and minority students. Until now, Orlando has been viewed as the likely location. An inner-city area downtown near Interstate 4 already has been pinpointed as a spot where land could be donated.

The bills that would create new law schools for FAMU and Florida International University in Miami are ready for final votes next week, the last week of the legislative session.

Gov. Jeb Bush said this week that the new law schools and a new medical school at Florida State University would serve worthy purposes. But he said he wants to be convinced that there are adequate safeguards to ensure that the new professional schools would carry out their missions.

Supporters of both FAMU and FIU have campaigned for years for law schools, often fighting against each other. Florida A&M, a historically black university, lost its law school in the 1960s when one opened at nearby Florida State University. FIU has the largest portion of Hispanic students of any of the state's 10 public universities.

But black and Hispanic legislators are united this year, and the state has more money to spend than in the past because of the booming economy.

"It demonstrates what diversity can do when we work together to accomplish a common goal," said Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami, chairman of the legislative black caucus. "It is a dream come true."

The Senate bill that won preliminary approval Friday would require both law schools to open by 2003. It also would direct them to use the Internet and other electronic sources to equip the law libraries in an attempt to hold down costs.

There is $5-million in the proposed Senate budget for 2000-2001 for the law schools, which are expected to be part of the final negotiations.

"We're confident this will be on its way to the governor real soon," Diaz-Balart said.

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