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Graham group continuing Fla. university lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE – A group including former Gov. and ex-U.S. Sen. Bob Graham will continue a lawsuit challenging the Legislature’s authority to set tuition at state universities, although one of its partners has withdrawn.

The Board of Governors, which oversees the 11 universities, joined the group’s lawsuit three years ago but last month reached a settlement with the Legislature to share authority over tuition and some other governance matters with lawmakers.

The suit, filed in Tallahassee, seeks a Circuit Court order declaring the board has sole authority over those functions including tuition. It’s likely to work its way up to the Florida Supreme Court regardless of how the Circuit Court rules.

A trial is set for July, but the group’s lawyer Robin Gibson and the Legislature last week each filed motions for summary judgment.

Graham helped lead a citizen initiative that amended the Florida Constitution to create the board in 2002. The intent was to curtail political interference with the universities.

The amendment doesn’t specifically mention tuition but says “the board shall operate, regulate, control and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system.”

The Legislature contends the amendment does nothing to block its constitutional authority over spending, which lawmakers say includes tuition as part of its revenue-raising powers such as taxation.

Gibson disagrees, arguing tuition falls outside the Legislature’s revenue authority because it’s a voluntary payment for contractual services. Florida courts have never handled the tuition issue.