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story.lead_photo.caption Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville (center), is shown in this file photo as he talks with Reps. Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia (left), and David Meeks, R-Conway.

Five bills that would overhaul the state's procurement laws sailed through the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, said the bills resulted from the Legislative Council's Review Subcommittee's year-and-a-half study of the state government's procurement processes and requirements. The state uses the procurement system for agencies to contract with vendors.

In September 2017, the Legislative Council hired Ikaso Consulting LLC of San Bruno, Calif., as a consultant to help lawmakers review and recommend changes. The consultant's cost to the Bureau of Legislative Research totaled $363,800, bureau Director Marty Garrity said after the House committee's meeting.

The subcommittee's study started after skirmishing between some lawmakers and Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration over various state contracts.

[RELATED: Complete Democrat-Gazette coverage of the Arkansas Legislature]

In an interview, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, said he expects the measures will mean the subcommittee will focus more on contracts with significant changes, and the state hopefully will receive fewer frivolous protests filed over contract awards.

The goal is fewer disputes between the legislative and executive branches over contracts, said Wardlaw, who is a former Review Subcommittee co-chairman.

The governor's office had no statement from Hutchinson on the bills as of early Wednesday evening.

Within 15 minutes, the House State Agencies committee recommended House approval of:

• House Bill 1161 by Dotson that would set a standard legislative review threshold for all service contracts of more than $100,000 to eliminate the distinction for different types of contracts. The bill also would remove from legislative review extensions of previously reviewed contracts where there is no material modification.

• HB1162 by Dotson would require contracts for more than $1 million a year or more than $7 million in total to have objective and tailored performance metrics, the Review Subcommittee report states. Contracts also may include financial consequences for failing to adhere to these metrics.

• HB1179 by Wardlaw would set allowable grounds, such as scoring error and improper conduct, for a losing vendor's protests over contract awards to a winning vendor. The bill also would allow a winning vendor harmed by an improper protest by a losing vendor to sue the protesting vendor, according to the subcommittee report.

• HB1180 by Wardlaw would require agencies using cooperative purchasing agreements to demonstrate that use of the agreements results in savings, material economic value or both, according to the subcommittee report.

Wardlaw told the House committee that the Arkansas Municipal League is concerned the bill would affect cities' ability to engage in cooperative purchasing agreements.

"I gave a young man my word that if we find it does affect a municipality's ability for cooperative agreements, we would amend [the bill] on the Senate end and bring it back to this committee," he said.

• HB1181 by Wardlaw would require the Department of Finance and Administration to develop a program to preclude bidders who have existing state contracts that have "material issues" from bidding on new work until those issues are resolved, according to the subcommittee report.

A sixth bill, HB1178, wasn't considered because it needs to be amended, Wardlaw said. The bill would remove legal services from the type of services required to be procured through a request for qualifications. It also would allow the Office of State Procurement to create a training and certification program for state employees, according to the subcommittee report.

A Section on 01/24/2019

Print Headline: 5 bills advance to rework laws on procurement

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