Sunday, July 04, 2004

House OKs bill opening meetings ; Public could attend forum on proposed Dickinson split

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Sunday, July 4, 2004

House OKs bill opening meetings ; Public could attend forum on proposed Dickinson split

Of The Patriot-News

The state House yesterday passed a measure that would allow the public to attend next month's meeting to decide whether to split The Dickinson School of Law into two campuses. The bill, approved by a 202-0 vote, orders the law school's board of governors to hold open meetings.

An amendment was made to narrow the proposal's focus to address concerns that it apply specifically to the law school. Because of that, it must go back to the Senate for its approval. The Senate has already approved a similar measure.

That concurrence on the bill, sponsored by Sen. Harold Mowery, R- Cumberland, was expected to occur last night, and Mowery was optimistic it would pass. The Senate had not considered the bill as of this edition of The Patriot-News.

Gov. Ed Rendell has indicated he would sign the bill.

"It's a victory for the public, a victory for open meetings and accountability," said Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle.

Law school board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman called it "bad public policy." He said it could apply to nonprofit boards associated with higher education institutions other than the law school.

However, "If the law is passed, we will certainly accept and prepare to live by the new statute," Zimmerman said.

The law school's board met behind closed doors last month to discuss whether to maintain a campus in Carlisle or move the school to Penn State's main campus in State College.

Instead, the board decided to scrap those ideas and consider a dual-campus operation. The board is expected to meet to decide on that option next month.

The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle have tried to force the meetings open through a court challenge. The newspapers won their fight in Cumberland County Court, but that decision was overturned by the Commonwealth Court in April. The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the newspapers' appeal of that decision, but the high court isn't expected to hear the case until September or October.

Rendell has thrown his backing to that proposal and pledged $10 million in public money toward a $25 million renovation of Dickinson's Carlisle campus to house 300 students, 20 professors and a full program enhanced by continued public law internships.

Penn State has promised to raise $60 million for a law school facility that would hold 450 students, 30 faculty and a law program that would highlight chances for students to specialize their degree in business, finance, science and other areas.

Because public money is being promised, lawmakers said they considered it important that the public hear the deliberations that go into the decision of whether to pursue the dual-campus option.

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