Senator West has been working for multiple legislative sessions to get passage of a bill to authorize and fund establishment of a Law School in his district. Last session it was voted down but this time it made it through the Senate and was passed by the house with one minor admendment (change of name). It has gone back to the Senate where it should see easy passage. Will be interesting to see if Gov. Perry signs it, vetoes it, or leaves it languishing on his desk.
Dallas law school opposed by some North Texas lawmakersRead nore in the Fort Worth Star Telegram
By DAVE MONTGOMERY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Fri. May 15, 2009
AUSTIN — The bill creating a new law school in Dallas met with opposition from the other side of the Metroplex on Thursday with state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, saying that the $40 million state-funded initiative is money that could be better spent on healthcare.
"Why are you prioritizing more lawyers over more doctors and nurses?" Burnam asserted before the House voted 108-35 to give final approval to legislation authorizing the University of North Texas College of Law in Dallas.
Three of the 10 Tarrant County House members voted against the bill — Burnam and Reps. Charlie Geren and Mark Shelton, both Republicans from Fort Worth. State Reps. Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Rob Orr, R-Burleson, also voted no.
SB956 had sailed through the House with no debate Wednesday when lawmakers gave it preliminary approval. But Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the bill’s sponsor, faced spirited questioning — some of it friendly, some less so — as the bill came up for a final vote.
Burnam pointed out that there are already two private law schools in the Metroplex — the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in downtown Fort Worth and the Southern Methodist University Law School in Dallas.
"They’re a little concerned about having three law schools in the North Texas area," Burnam said.
A spokesman for Texas Wesleyan, however, said that the university does not oppose the additional law school about 30 miles to the east.
"We’re not at all against it," said Dan Brothers, director of marketing. "We feel that another entity of higher education has got to be beneficial for the state."
Burnam, whose district includes Wesleyan, said in an interview that university officials have said "nothing officially" in opposition to the new school. But, he said, "I don’t know anybody in the legal community in Fort Worth that is in favor of this pork-barrel project in Dallas."
Branch, chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, called the proposed law school a "very good value for the taxpayers" and pointed out that Texas hasn’t opened a new state-supported law school since 1967.
But Burnam, questioning Branch from the rear of the chamber, told the Dallas lawmaker that creation of a new law school undercuts efforts to construct a new medical school in South Texas.
"I just think that’s the wrong priority," Burnam said. "I don’t think I can support your bill."
Branch’s Dallas colleagues came to his support. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, said a public institution would make an education in law more accessible to minorities and would be substantially cheaper than private schools.
Branch reiterated that Fort Worth-Dallas is the nation’s only major metropolitan area without a public law school.
The new law school would be part of the Denton-based University of North Texas System, with the first class projected to open in 2011.
At the outset, students would attend classes in a downtown academic center now shared by UNT, the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas A&M-Commerce. But the college would eventually move across the street into the Old Dallas Municipal Building.
The Texas Legislature On-Line:
C.S.S.B. 956 By: Sen. Royce West
Higher Education Committee Report (Substituted)
The Dallas-Fort Worth area is the fifth largest Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States and the only one that does not have a public law school. Texas' population has increased from 14.3 million to 22.5 million with no additional law schools being added, limiting the opportunities for Texans to attain an affordable legal education in Texas. With the continuing growth of the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the need for legal knowledge is increasing. Currently, Dallas must import 30 percent of its attorneys from out-of-state law schools.
C.S.S.B. 956 authorizes the University of North Texas System board of regents to establish and operate a school of law in the city of Dallas as a professional school of the University of North Texas System for five years and as a professional school of the University of North Texas at Dallas after that period. The bill grants the board of regents additional bonding authority to finance capital acquisitions, construction, and improvements for the law school, and entitles the law school, under certain conditions, to participate in the higher education fund provided by the Texas Constitution.
It is the committee's opinion that this bill does not expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.
C.S.S.B. 956 amends the Education Code to authorize the University of North Texas System board of regents to establish and operate a school of law in the city of Dallas as a professional school of the University of North Texas System. The bill authorizes the board, in administering the law school, to prescribe courses leading to customary degrees offered at other leading American schools of law and to award those degrees. The bill requires the board to administer the law school as a professional school of the system until the University of North Texas at Dallas has been administered as a general academic teaching institution for five years and requires the law school to become a professional school of the University of North Texas at Dallas after that period. The bill establishes that the law school, until becoming a professional school of the university, is considered an institution of higher education and is entitled to formula funding as if the law school were a professional school of a general academic teaching institution. The bill requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, before The University of North Texas System board of regents establishes the law school, but not later than June 1, 2010, to prepare a feasibility study to determine the actions the system must take to obtain accreditation of the law school. The bill requires the coordinating board to deliver a copy of the study to the chair of each legislative standing committee or subcommittee with jurisdiction over higher education.
C.S.S.B. 956 grants the University of North Texas System board of regents up to $40 million in additional bonding authority to finance the acquisition, purchase, construction, improvement, renovation, enlargement, or equipping of property, buildings, structures, or other facilities, including roads and related infrastructure, for the law school established in the city of Dallas by the University of North Texas System. The bill authorizes the board of regents to pledge irrevocably to the payment of the bonds all or any part of the revenue funds of an institution, branch, or entity of the University of North Texas System, including student tuition charges, and prohibits any reduction or abrogation in the amount of such a pledge while the bonds for which the pledge is made, or bonds issued to refund those bonds, are outstanding. The bill authorizes the board, if sufficient funds are not available to the board of regents to meet its obligations, to transfer funds among institutions, branches, and entities of the University of North Texas System to ensure the most equitable and efficient allocation of available resources for each institution, branch, or entity to carry out its duty and purposes.
C.S.S.B. 956 adds the University of North Texas College of Law to the list of component institutions of the University of North Texas System.
C.S.S.B. 956 establishes that venue for a suit filed solely against the law school or against officers or employees of the law school is in Dallas County. The bill provides that in case of a conflict between the above provision and any other law, the above provision controls.
C.S.S.B. 956 entitles the college of law to participate in the higher education fund provided by the Texas Constitution for institutions of higher education if this bill receives a vote of at least two-thirds of the membership of each house of the legislature.
On passage, or, if the act does not receive the necessary vote, the act takes effect September 1, 2009.
COMPARISON OF ORIGINAL AND SUBSTITUTE
C.S.S.B. 956 differs from the original by referring to the University of North Texas College of Law, whereas the original refers to the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law. The substitute removes a provision authorizing the University of North Texas System board of regents to accept gifts, grants, and donations from any public or private source for the purposes of the law school. The substitute removes a provision in the original establishing that the bill does not make an appropriation and that the bill takes effect only if a specific appropriation is provided. The substitute adds provisions not in the original relating to the grant of additional bonding authority to the University of North Texas System board of regents to finance capital acquisitions, construction, and improvements of facilities and infrastructure for the law school.