09 May 2016

Committee action, May 9: HB 256, HB 454, HB 74, HB 1005

HB 256 by Sen. Mike Walsworth would carve out appropriations to higher-qualifying senior citizen centers, he told the Senate Finance Committee. But Sen. Jim Fannin asked for with Walsworth’s assent an amendment to make this award discretionary. That was adopted without objection, and so was the bill.

HB 454 by Rep. Dee Richard would lower threshold for legislative review of contracts from $40,000 to $25,000 using all means of finance. Sen. Jack Donahue, noting that the threshold for letting was only $20,000, asked how many more would be included for review, which would be about 130 a month; currently, the law includes only discretionary general funding so none yet have needed review. He expressed skepticism that such a workload could be maintained. Even Richard said he would not look thoroughly at so many, but said he wanted to publicize the issue of their numbers and amounts to cut these. Donahue, a contractor by trade, said it took him considerable time to review these for his business.

Fannin said the process to do this would be so time consuming that the bill should have a fiscal note. Chairman Eric LaFleur said this change would move from transparency to oversight of contracts.

Sen. Bret Allain offered an amendment to move the amount back to $40,000 and eliminated the approval requirement. Fannin wondered whether a 30-day window could work, but some contracts are of such duration that this would rush the procurement process. Allain said his amendment would be a workable way to accomplish this. Sen. Sharon Hewitt said priority should go to larger contracts, but seemed unsure whether this bill would properly do this. Without objection, the amended was adopted, which cut down the number to about 120 a month.

Dueling motions to report or defer came up. It was reported favorably with all Republicans present voting for it, all Democrats present against.

HB 74 by Richard would reduce contracts from the present level by $183.2 million. That number matched the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students shortfall. Fannin wanted to know how it worked; Richard said that was left up to administrative discretion.

Sen. Regina Barrow argued that this bill would be too restrictive, but Richard said there would be sufficient slack for cuts to be made without affecting crucial services. The bill also allows waivers for several conditions, so that it may not achieve savings anyway.

Other senators agreed, assuming that all health care contracts were off the table. Hewitt said the appropriations process might be a better venue to make more targeted. The bill then was deferred involuntarily.

HB 1005 by Rep. Tom Wilmott would prevent agencies spending above monthly averages of the previous fiscal year in the last two months of the current fiscal year without approval by the commissioner of administration, in acquisitions, supplies and travel. Currently agencies have incentive to spend everything, but if the spending rate is lower than historical norms, this may indicate not as much should have been appropriated. Wilmott said he had research to show spikes in spending in these areas in the last two months. Without objection, it was favorably reported.

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