BILL WOULD INCREASE CONTRACTING OVERSIGHT
(AUSTIN) — The Senate Finance Committee considered a bill Wednesday aimed at giving lawmakers a better handle on contracts signed by state agencies. It would also restrict what kinds of things agencies can contract for and increases reporting requirements. Committee Chair Jane Nelson said that the current system has serious problems and must be brought back under legislative oversight. "Because we rely so heavily on contracting for delivering state services, it is critical that we address these issues," she said. Nelson said that the state contracted out for $60 billion in goods and services in 2010, and in 2013, one agency, the Health and Human Service Commission, alone entered into more than 33,000 contracts worth more than $24 billion. "We are growing exponentially in our contracting," she added.
The Finance Committee heard testimony last month that raised serious concerns about the state contracting system. A State Auditor's Office review of 14 major state agencies revealed that only two met all state contracting guidelines. Many of these violations were minor or technical, but auditors found serious problems with oversight and conflicts of interests in two contracts worth more than half a billion dollars. Officials also testified that it is impossible to even say exactly how many contracts the state is bound to, as there is no central database that tracks such information. "It's outrageous, we're going to get to the bottom of it and we're going to fix it," Nelson said at the February 18 meeting.
Her bill, SB 20, would set new guidelines for agency contracting practices. The bill would require agencies to record all communications and documentation related to a contract and would also require them to post a list of all contracts on their agency website. It would require that agency heads sign off on contracts worth more than $1 million and would require agencies to report compliance of financial provisions and delivery schedules. It would also increase restrictions on conflict of interest between agencies and contracted vendors and would require an increasing number of competitive bids on a contract as the price increases. "These contracts are paid for with taxpayer dollars," Nelson said. "We must ensure that they are rewarded with the highest degree of ethics and transparency. There is no room for even the appearance of favoritism or unethical behavior from our state agencies." The bill was left pending before the committee as they look at additional provisions, but Nelson said she intends the move the bill out of committee next week.
|Houston Senator Sylvia Garcia filed legislation to create civil and criminal penalties for people who post intimate photos online without the subject's permission.|
Also today, Houston Senator Sylvia Garcia introduced legislation that would give victims a way to seek justice against people who post intimate images of them online without permission. Garcia said that former romantic partners posting sexual images of a person for revenge or profit is a serious problem that can humiliate and even endanger victims." Many of us fear what pictures someone may put on Facebook without our permission that make us look silly, or stupid or just laughable," she said. "Imagine what some of these victims go through when there is an image put out there without their permission that does a lot more." Her bill, SB 1135, would create a misdemeanor offense against former partners who post such images online, and would allow victims to sue sites that host these images for ad or subscription revenue.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, March 16, at 2 p.m.