House Budget Vote: While You Were Sleeping….
The ProJo covers most of the angles regarding last night’s budget debate, but I couldn’t find anything about the “amendment” (Article 42-RELATING TO PRIVATIZATION OF STATE SERVICES) that Rep. Charlene Lima proposed at midnight. In actuality, it was a full-fledged bill that Rep. Lima explained she had been trying to bring to the floor for 10-15 years. Last night, the House Democrat Leadership allowed her to attach it to the budget at the 11th hour. According to Lima, speaking on the House floor, this was a better method because this way her bill couldn’t be vetoed on its own. The text of the original bill: H5315 states:
Prior to the closure, consolidation or privatization of any state facility, function or property, the director of administration or his or her designee, shall conduct a thorough cost comparison analysis and evaluate quality performance concerns before deciding to purchase services from private vendors rather than provide services directly.
(b) The director of administration shall, at least sixty (60) days prior to issuing requests for bids or proposals, complete the…process
Then it lays out the process to be followed. Given the recent stories about the State’s recent troubles with privatization or private contracts, this sounds like a fair enough idea, but Rep. Bruce Long (R) rose up to oppose bringing the measure up in this fashion: at midnight with no opportunity for review.
Also, Rep. Robert Trillo (R) proposed (tongue firmly planted in cheek) an amendment applying the new law to both State and local municipal jobs, arguing that if it’s so important and such a good idea that it needs to be passed right now–at midnight with no opportunity for closer scrutiny–then the House should pass along the same “benefits” to everybody. Trillo’s move cause some debate regarding parliamentary machinations. Fun for all…
All of the debate gave Rep. Nick Gorham (R) the time to delve into the bill, where he found something he thought worthy of pointing out on the floor:
Before any final awards are granted, affected parties must have an opportunity to appeal the final decision. Affected parties include recipients, and their families of the affected public program, state employees and their representative organizations and bidders. Appeals shall not apply to questions concerning awards to one contractor in preference to another or the decision to keep the service in-house….Violation of any of the above contracting procedures shall be considered a grounds for appeal. Decisions on appeals shall be made by an independent arbitration process. (d) Parties shall have a minimum of three (3) weeks after the initial cost comparisons are available to initiate an appeal. No contracts shall be awarded or services converted to vendors if an appeal is pending. All detailed documentation supporting the cost and quality comparisons shall be made available to directly affected parties upon request, when the initial decision is announced. If the documentation is not available at that time, the initial appeal shall be extended by the number of days to equal the delay. (e) The appeals procedure must be independent and objective and provide for a decision within thirty (30) calendar days of receipt of the appeal.
As Rep. Gorham summarized, apparently the law would allow any state worker whose job was about to privatized the ability to appeal the decision in state courts. In short, this would further tie the Governor’s hands if he tried to privatize state jobs, as he has proposed doing in the current fiscal crisis.
Rep. Long continued to return to the fact that the proposal may have merits, but he just thought that passing it at midnight with little scrutiny was a bad idea. Then House Speaker Gordon Fox got up and played the “emotion card,” explaining that this was about the state workers and their families who are scared and that the House needs to do something “right now, tonight” to alleviate those fears. He also said that he had spoken to the Governor and that they could go back and fix some things after the fact. (Cough cough).
As expected, after about 45 minutes of debate, the amendment passed.
Another Rhode Block to government reform had been put in place.