A Louisiana Senate committee narrowed the scope Friday of a bill that aims to reduce the number of contracts in state government.
The Senate Finance Committee amended House Bill 15 by state Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux, to limit the reduction to consulting contracts. No reductions would be made to contracts for personal and professional services.
The amendment arose from concerns that the legislation would affect contracts that provide services to the disabled, mentally ill and others.
“I just think it will gut the bill,” said State Treasurer John Kennedy, who handled the bill in Richard’s absence.
After adopting the amendments, the committee advanced the legislation to the full Senate.
The bill consumed two days of committee members’ attention.
HB15 originally called for a 10 percent reduction in state professional, personal, consulting and social service contracts.
LSU System special budget assistant Bob Keaton raised concerns that the bill, as written, would affect the system’s public hospitals. He said federal funds for the hospital are spent through contracts.
Steven Procopio with the state Division of Administration cited a number of implementation problems, including how the bill would affect multiple-year contracts.
“Can we realistically do this?” asked state Sen. Sherri Cheek, R-Keithville.
Kennedy said the Division of Administration, which handles the daily operations of state government, could implement the legislation.
“This is not a complicated bill,” he said. “It’s common practice in the private sector that if a business has to reduce its spending, it eliminates unnecessary consulting contracts. That’s all I’m suggesting that we do.”
Kennedy said his target is not hospital or pharmacy contracts, but rather contracts that analyze children’s play at recess, implement a chimpanzee discovery day and encourage Hispanic citizens in Alexandria to use their seat belts.
Beth Scioneaux, deputy state superintendent of education, defended the recess contract.
She said that was “something special” done after Hurricane Katrina to help children traumatized by the natural disaster.
“You’re going to have to cut a big contract. There’s only so many $15,000 (and) $50,000 contracts you can cut to get to a 10 percent amount,” Procopio said.
Cheek said she was concerned the legislation would limit the state’s ability to respond to a swine flu outbreak and other disasters.
“I have every confidence that, if the division wants to do it, it can,” Kennedy told her.
State Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, said there is a lot of room for improvement in state government. But she said she feared affecting the disabled and the mentally ill.
“What seems like a simple idea in practicality has some consequences,” Jackson said. “I think to be responsible we have to think through those consequences.”
Jackson offered the amendment that limited the reduction to consulting contracts.
“We have too many services at risk. Most of the contracts you cited fall into the consulting category,” she told Kennedy.
Kennedy disagreed, saying contracts will fit themselves into the excluded categories or fly under the radar.