Wylie's proposed bill targets government contract abuses

Current employee ethics laws would extend to contractors

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photoState Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver

A Southwest Washington lawmaker’s bill to crack down on government contract abuses, as well as streamline the contracting process, received a hearing in the Legislature on Thursday.

Washington state spends $1 billion a year to contract with about 300 companies that provide the government with the goods and services it needs, including vehicles, health care and office supplies. It has a competitive bids process that allows businesses to try to sell goods and services to the state, but those testifying in support of the bill on Thursday said the system has problems, including nepotism and contract breaches.

State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, recently filed House Bill 2452, which aims to set better guidelines that all state agencies must follow when choosing a contract. Her proposal also would create a website to make it easier for small businesses to bid on contracts and submit paperwork to the state.

“Becoming a vendor and doing business for the state has been getting more complex over the years, as well as time-consuming,” Wylie said during the hearing. “This prevents many small businesses from participating.”

Positive testimony

The bill extends state employee ethics laws to contractors, meaning businesses seeking a government contract with the state may not give anything of economic value to a state employee. The proposal gives the state’s recently created Department of Enterprise Services the authority to dissolve any contracts that violate its rules or have “any other serious or compelling” issues, according to a bill analysis provided by the state.

During the Thursday hearing, several people spoke in support of the bill, and nobody requested to speak against the bill. One person testifying suggested the bill be broadened to include public works projects such as improvements to sidewalks or electrical systems.

Representatives on the State Government and Tribal Affairs committee will decide whether to advance the legislation out of committee on Jan. 26. If the bill becomes law, it would go into effect next January.

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics