Contract review bill killed

For the second year in a row, the Louisiana Senate Finance Committee killed legislation that would require review and oversight of contracts that would privatize services provided by state government.

“It’s hard for us, as representatives, to go back home and tell our constituents that we didn’t review the contract and we’re 100 percent sure that it’s going to be saving us money,” said state Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, moments after the Senate Finance Committee voted 7-3 Tuesday to reject House Bill 128. The panel deferred a similar bill by Havard last year on a vote of 8-2.

HB128 focused on the large contracts of more than $5 million that would, for example, replace the state workers running a prison or hospital with managers from a private company, Havard said.

Havard said he wasn’t surprised because Gov. Bobby Jindal’s staff had lobbied against the legislation.

“There are a lot of problems with this bill,” testified Elizabeth Murrill, executive counsel for the Division of Administration. “This goes well beyond the review process.”

For instance, HB128 would require state agencies to conduct background checks on employees. HB128 would keep companies from wanting to do business with the state, Murrill said.

“What concerned us most was the scope of the legislation,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.

“I know the administration has heartburn with this,” said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central. “But if I had your district, I might bring this bill too.”

Havard’s District 62, mostly in the Felicianas, includes a lot of state hospitals, institutions and prisons, including the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson.

The Louisiana Legislative Fiscal Office says about 35 of the contracts would fit under the parameters set in HB128. Most deal with health services.

Havard said he was asked to vote earlier in the session on the closure of LSU Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville but he had no idea how many people were being laid off, how many services were being provided and how much it was costing to provide the services.

“I don’t need to know what a doctor’s salary is, “ Havard said, “I just want to make sure the contract will save us money.”

The legislation would have required the Legislative Auditor to vet the privatization contracts. The Legislative Auditor’s Office estimated it would take about 300 hours to review a contract. But the agency could handle the additional work without having to increase the number of staffers.

Voting FOR deferring legislation to require contract review (7): State Sens. Norby Chabert, R-Houma; Bret Allain II, R-Franklin; Sherri Smith Buffington, R-Keithville; Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur; Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville; and Gregory Tarver, D-Shreveport.

Voting AGAINST rejecting HB128 (3): State Sens. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte; Ed Murray, D-New Orleans; and White.