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Bill to merge Florida Poly, New College into UF dies in Florida Legislature

But the idea lives on, said House Speaker José Oliva.
New College and Florida Polytechnic University are both schools the Legislature is looking to fold into others. [Times files]

TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would have required New College and Florida Polytechnic University to merge into the University of Florida was officially declared dead on Friday, after having more life than most political observers ever expected.

“It wasn’t going to get the support in the Senate so we abandoned it,” said House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, after the House adjourned late Friday evening without taking up the bill. “It’s a shame, but that’s the process.”

The bill was a legislative grenade that was filed at a late stage in session that critics said felt rushed and haphazard. But bill sponsor Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, maintained that combining the schools would result in a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars, since Florida Poly and New College have higher-than-average cost per degree to the state.

But from the beginning, it was opposed even by powerful Republican lawmakers who represented the areas where the schools are located, including Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who's also the chair of the Republican Party of Florida. New College, a tiny liberal arts school, is located in Sarasota.

The presidents of both New College and Florida Polytechnic also vehemently opposed the bill, coming up to Tallahassee to lobby against it.

It had seemed like a long-shot bill, but after it passed two committees (and was amended to remove Florida State University from the merger plan) the schools became increasingly nervous.

It was kept alive by support of leadership, after both Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said they wanted to explore the idea.

The bill also brought back unflattering memories of how these two schools were originally created. In committee, Fine reminded lawmakers how they had been “political decisions driven by very powerful legislators at the time.”

Oliva added Friday that the merger idea should live on in the future.

“That’s one of those ideas whose time is going to come,” he said. “If the only thing we were able to do is bring to light that that needs to be reviewed year over year, then we had some success.”

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