Legislators deferred progress on the merger of Salt Lake Community College with Salt Lake-Tooele Applied Technology College to an interim task force for further study this summer.

Following multiple substitutes and various amendments, HB284, that would have consolidated the efforts of the two colleges, which both currently offer career and technical education, failed to live through a debate on the House floor.

"I see this bill being in the same place one year from now," said Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, who sponsored the bill. "These two schools will continue to fight and battle one another."

Holdaway argued that when legislation in 2001 created the Utah College of Applied Technology, provisions in the bill hinted to future "adjustments."

In 2003, lawmakers voted to consolidate one UCAT campus with Snow College in Ephraim, because of the "duplication of services in that area," Holdaway said. Last year, another merger occurred, bringing the College of Eastern Utah and Southeastern Applied Technology College together in offering two-year and other career and technical education certification.

"This is not just another one on the chopping block," Holdaway said. "I see this as the final adjustment — the final piece of the puzzle in UCAT governance."

However, colleagues believed the bill would do more harm than good in its current state, and referred it to the Higher Education Task Force, which will consider issues of duplication in career and technical education during the interim.

"I see this as a step backwards," said Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, who sponsored the merger last year, calling that merger a "very unique economic and demographic situation."

A study performed last summer found duplication of programming in the Salt Lake and Tooele County areas, resulting in various duplications of funding. Then Commissioner of Higher Education, Rich Kendell, recommended the merger of the two institutions to alleviate any duplication.

Although Holdaway's bill included a protection for other campuses of UCAT, Bigelow reminded the body that "it only takes a bill" to undo prior legislation.

"This is a major policy issue and there is no question in my mind that it would affect students in this area," he said.

Rep. David Clark, R-Santa Clara, said he wasn't sure the merger wasn't the right destination for career and technical education in the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys, but that further study, with legislative presence, would confirm the right decision and perhaps "bring about added beneficial changes."

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