Update: The bill is listed on Tuesday's agenda of the Senate's City, County & Local Affairs Committee which is chaired by local Sen. Gary Stubblefield.
State Rep. Jon Eubanks was among those casting a vote in favor of House Bill 1041 which allows municipalities with populations of more than 2,500 to spend up to $50,000 without a competitive bid process.
The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Jack Ladyman, R-Jonesboro, passed with 55 votes. There were 18 nay votes, 14 Representatives did not cast a vote, and another 13 voted present.
The bill has been forwarded to the Senate’s City, County & Local Affairs Committee. That committee is chaired by local Senator Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch.
The bill had received a “do pass” recommendation from the House City, County & Local Affairs Committee on Jan. 23.
Eubanks said the bill came out of the House committee sporting unanimous support.
“The only thing I’ve heard now, and apparently it was never raised in the committee or on the (House) floor, is that it impacts newspapers because of the publishing requirements,” said Eubanks.
The Arkansas Press Association completely opposes the bill and made a series of posts on Twitter and Facebook last week, labeling the bill a threat to government transparency.
“We weren’t trying to hurt anybody,” Eubanks said. “When I saw the transparency thing I thought, what did we do? And that happens sometimes.”
Eubanks added the bill can be amended, or it could be defeated on the Senate side.
Stubblefield, R-Branch, who chairs the Senate committee where the bill is now assigned said he couldn’t support the bill as it is and, because his committee has three Democrats, doesn’t expect it has as easy of a route as it had in the House.
“I look forward to debating this bill,” Stubblefield said Friday.
The APA identified what it termed myths the bill will reportedly alleviate including that competitive bidding is cumbersome especially when purchasing police cars because there is already a provision that allows for the purchase of vehicles without bidding.
The City of Booneville has purchased its entire police department fleet without a bid process because it was eligible to make the purchases through a state approved contract with two Little Rock dealerships.
Eubanks said the idea to increase the amount was presented because there had not been an increase in the minimum amount in a while.
He adds that the contractor licensing board had raised a requirement to have a contractor’s license from $25,000 to $50,000 “a couple years ago.”
The APA also disputes the existing threshold of $20,000 is too low because that limit was established about a decade ago, meaning the $50,000 is an increase of 1.5 times the existing mount.
An idea that cities operate more efficiently without the bidding process was countered with a statement of “the lack of bidding for purchases subjects a city to a haphazard procurement process and more scrutiny. Laying groundwork for purchases is always better than fallout from poor choice,” by the APA.
Another purported savings on printing of legal notices was countered by the APA’s belief that, “without bidding, cities shut the door to local business/contractors who may provide the product/service for less. The cost of notice is offset by savings through competitive marketplace.”
Finally, the APA completely disputes the bill promotes transparency, insisting “few newspaper/broadcast outlets publish information about city council agendas or (the) procurement process. The best way to ensure transparency/fairness to all bidders is through the centuries-old tradition of public notices.”