Senator vows return of controversial college bill

When Sen. Joan Carter Conway recommitted her controversial college program bill back to her committee Tuesday she did so with a warning: It will be back.

Conway made the promise just before announcing she would send the bill back to committee rather than let it proceed to a final vote in the Senate.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway

Sen. Joan Carter Conway [File, Feb. 4, 2014 The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears]Sen. Joan Carter Conway [File, Feb. 4, 2014 The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears]

“It hurts my heart,” Conway said.

“But I know the fate of the bill in the House based on the discussions.”

The move to send the bill back to committee came a week after Conway engaged in a tense and heated debate over the bill with Sens. Jim Brochin and Bobby Zirkin, two Baltimore County Democrats. The bill passed on a procedural vote.

The bill would require the Maryland Higher Education Commission to review objections by historically black colleges and universities to proposals for new academic programs or substantial modifications to existing so-called traditionally white institutions.

The bill also makes changes to the existing process used by commission and would require a detailed process that includes witness testimony and weighing of evidence. Final decisions made by the commission  could be challenged in Circuit Court.

Conway said the process will protect programs and historically black colleges and universities and would provide a faster, less expensive judicial process.

Opponents said the proposed changes would allow state colleges and universities to sue each other and would not be less expensive. Others expressed concern that the bill would jump ahead of a mediation case already going on involving Morgan State University and Towson University.

A federal court judge found violations with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but ordered the universities to mediation before issuing a final order.

Conway said she fought so hard for the bill over the last few years because of a death-bed promise she made to Sen. Clarence Blount, D-Baltimore.

She said Blount counseled her frequently to not fall in love with bills but later he asked her to make him a promise.

“He said, ‘Promise me you will continue to fight for Morgan.’ He loved Morgan and all the HBIs. As he laid there, I nodded,” Conway said. “He said: ‘You’ve got all this fire. help the HBIs.’ So it’s not about Joan being in love with the bill.”

Typically, referring a bill back to committee is a death sentence for a piece of legislation.

“It’s not gone,” Conway said. “Don’t get too happy.

“You might not see this bill but she will be back on the floor this session,” Conway promised.

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