It passed unanimously in the Senate, but a bill that would give the State Contracting Standards Board greater oversight over state contracting appeared stalled in the House Wednesday on the last day of session.
“The governor and I have not talked about the bill,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said. “The commissioners have sent us a lot of emails.”
Ritter said state agencies had expressed concerns the bill might have gone too far and would prevent them from doing things they need to do quickly. He said they are looking to find a solution and possibly send the bill back up to the Senate for passage.
As passed by the Senate, the bill adds requirements to state agencies seeking to enter privatization contracts. It requires the agency to post the information on their website about emergency procurements and it limits when the Department of Administrative Services can use on-call construction consultants.
This bill has been raised in the past, but there was a new sense of urgency this year due to the scandal involving Kosta Diamantis, Gov. Ned Lamont’s former Office of Policy and Management deputy who oversaw school construction contracts. Diamantis became the focus of an ongoing federal investigation into whether he had circumvented state bidding laws on construction and material disposal contracts.
Earlier this year, Lamont wanted to shift funding for the State Contracting Standards Board to the state auditor’s office, but lawmakers fought back and restored the $450,000 for the board to hire staff.
“No one is opposed to funding the positions, which we’re doing,” Ritter said.
He said he’s looking to find language they could pass to resolve the commissioner’s concerns.
“Its fate is like any other bill. If one person doesn’t like it, it creates a problem,” Ritter said.
But Republicans say the governor is trying to kill the bill by having his commissioner’s raise these last-minute concerns.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said “the governor’s consistent opposition to oversight raises the question about why the governor does not want transparency in this process.”
Max Reiss, a spokesman for Lamont, said “Look, it’s in the House’s court tonight. It’s up to them. It’s their calendar.”
The Lamont administration has been at odds with the board, which has authority to halt state purchasing if they’re deemed illegal. A budget implementer bill passed late last session effectively reduced the agency’s operating funds by $400,000 and Lamont preserved that cut in his budget proposal this year.
In March, the board’s chair, Lawrence Fox, told lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee he viewed a separate proposal from the governor as Orwellian. The language would have added staff to the state Auditors of Public Accounts and transfer the board’s enforcement authority there.
“There’s a problem,” Fox said of Connecticut’s contracting practices, “and we need to get on top of it and we need the staff to do it. But the answer in this governor’s bill is, ‘You know what? Let’s not have them do it all.’ So the impact, if this goes through the way it is, is that the board is basically dead. It’ll exist in name only.”