SENATE PASSES CONTRACTING OVERHAUL
|Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound authored the measure that seeks to increase oversight over agency contracting procedures.|
(AUSTIN) — State agencies who sign contracts with outside agencies would face stricter oversight and new reporting requirements under a bill approved by the Senate Tuesday. Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, vowed to reform the state's contracting procedure after testimony before her committee revealed serious gaps in accountability. "It's outrageous, we're going to get to the bottom of it and we're going to fix it," she said at a February hearing.
Nelson's bill, SB 20, would address a number of issues raised by a State Auditor's Office review of more than a dozen agencies that found a lack of oversight and serious conflicts of interest between some agency officials and outside vendors. State auditors testified it was difficult to even say how many contracts state agencies had signed because there is no central database of agency contracts. SB 20 would create a central clearinghouse at the Office of Comptroller of all outside contracts, and it would require all agencies to post active and proposed contracts on their state websites. Agencies would also have to keep on file documentation related to a contract for four years after it ends. It would increase restrictions on conflicts of interest and would enhance reporting requirements for agencies regarding vendor contracts. "Responsible contracting is a critical component to producing a responsible budget and to ensuring taxpayer money is spent in accordance with the high standards that our citizens deserve," said Nelson.
Also Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that is intended to make the state better able to deal with disease outbreaks in the future. Though the state response was able to prevent a widespread outbreak when an individual infected with Ebola appeared in Dallas last fall, Georgetown Senator and Health and Human Services Committee Chair Charles Schwertner said the emergency revealed ways the state can improve its disease response efforts. "I want to stress that this legislation is not simply a reaction to Ebola," he said. "Rather, it is a proactive approach to preparing our state for the next infectious disease threat."
His bill, SB 538, would better establish the chain of command during such a scenario by permitting the Governor to declare a "state of infectious disease emergency". This would allow the governor to establish a clear line of authority between state and local officials responding to a potential outbreak. Such an emergency can only be called under strict guidelines, said Schwertner. In order to declare a state of infectious disease emergency, the threat of the disease must pose a serious and imminent risk to the population, not be contained by public health interventions and have the potential for a high rate of infection or death.
The bill would also permit the enforcement of control orders. While state officials can issue a control order to a person who may be infected with a dangerous disease, for example requiring them to stay in their home for a period of time, they can't enforce that order unless the person violates it. At that point, the person may have exposed others to the pathogen. Schwertner's bill would allow officials to proactively prevent a person from breaking the order.
The bill would also continue the Governor's Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which recommended many of the provisions in SB 538, as a permanent advisory council to advise the Governor on policy related to controlling disease outbreaks. Additionally, the bill would require the state to keep a stockpile of personal protective equipment for health care workers or other people responding to a disease emergency.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 1 at 11 a.m.