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Idaho panel introduces state contracting overhaul bill

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After months of gathering testimony, reviewing studies and hearing from experts, an Idaho legislative committee has submitted its list of proposed changes to the state’s 40-year-old contracting laws.

“This is kind of a complex bill, but it was a complex subject,” said Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, while introducing the 33-page legislation to the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

According to the bill, anyone who handles state contracts must undergo training by the state’s Division of Purchasing — which manages some the statewide agreements. Along with training, contract oversight will be required. That recommendation comes after multiple state agency directors requested more contracting law training while being unanimously surveyed over the summer.

For example, one director warned that mishandled purchasing agreements can result in scandals, but agencies have limited resources to oversee the purchasing process.

Idaho’s system has come under scrutiny, particularly after a district judge in early 2015 voided a $60 million contract that provided broadband access in public schools. The judge determined state officials violated Idaho procurement laws by amending the contract after it had been awarded.

Around the same time, officials with the Division of Purchasing attempted similar contracting changes during the 2015 legislative session. However, lawmakers shot those down because they argued they weren’t stringent enough.

A year before, private prison giant Corrections Corp. of America pulled out of Idaho after more than a decade of scandals and lawsuits surrounding its operation of the state’s largest prison. CCA has acknowledged it showed the state incorrect staffing reports that fell short of the contractually obligated amount of guards on duty in 2012.

The bill also outlines ethical guidelines for state workers to follow while going through the purchasing process. If broken, employees may face termination or suspension.

“These are ethical procedures that need to be followed when someone spends the state’s money,” Anderson said.

However, Anderson — who co-chaired the interim committee — said there’s still work left to do on the state’s purchasing laws. The interim panel still didn’t address a new appeals process or multi-vendor contracts. He’s requesting extending the committee for one more summer so they can continue their work and come back next year with more suggestions.

Committee members unanimously approved introducing the bill Feb. 25, but the overhaul proposal still has to pass through the House and Senate before it head to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s desk for final approval.

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