Questions arise on bill letting colleges dodge bids; ACT choice passes House | Education

Unable to immediately get explanation of the legislation, the Senate Government Organization Committee on Tuesday delayed taking action on a bill (House Bill 3020) that would allow public colleges and universities to use their foundations to skirt bidding requirements for goods, services, buildings and loans.

Also Tuesday, the House of Delegates passed 86-14 a bill (Senate Bill 624) that says the state Board of Education would be required to allow county school boards to use tests other than the SAT as their standardized test for 11th-graders.

The legislation lists the ACT, and no other tests, as an example of what the alternative could be. The ACT lost a bid against the SAT to become West Virginia’s default high school statewide standardized test.

The delay on HB 3020, which Senate Government Organization Chairman Greg Boso said the committee plans to take up again at 10 a.m. Wednesday, came after two senators who previously voted for the identical Senate Bill 555 questioned the financial impact and purpose of the House version now before them.

Each chamber rushed and passed a week ago the same version of the legislation, but because they’re technically different bills, if in title only, one side’s version will have to pass the other side before it can head to the governor for his signature or veto.

The bills apply to the state Higher Education Policy Commission board, the state Community and Technical College System board, and any individual college Board of Governors.

Colleges currently have to follow state bidding rules, but their foundations, which are nonprofits, do not. The legislation would effectively allow colleges to use their foundations to circumvent bidding themselves.

It would allow college boards to define their foundations as “sole sources,” meaning the college wouldn’t have to solicit bids to determine whether any company, organization or individual could provide goods or services cheaper than the foundation would provide them.

A college board could define its foundation as a sole source even if the foundation itself is getting the services or goods from another company, possibly without soliciting bids.

The state Higher Education Policy Commission didn’t calculate a cost for the legislation, but it did write in a fiscal note that “the nonprofit corporation’s sole source designation could increase costs because the available information regarding the competitiveness of its offers would be reduced. … It would also be possible for the institutions to procure a large portion of its [sic] materials, goods, equipment, services, printing, facilities, or financial services from the nonprofit corporations on a sole-source basis.”

Committee counsel Seth Gaskins, when presenting HB 3020 to Government Organization Tuesday, said he hadn’t read that fiscal note when Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, asked him about it.

“I actually wasn’t aware of that, somehow that got through,” Gaskins said. He said someone else was in the room who could address fiscal implications, but the person apparently wasn’t there.

Boso, R-Nicholas, then asked whether there was anyone present who could answer Lindsay “from any of the agencies, HEPC or otherwise?”

The presidents of Fairmont State, Marshall and West Virginia State universities, if not more, were in the room. HEPC Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration Matt Turner was at a Senate Education Committee meeting at the time.

Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, asked Gaskins to explain current purchasing procedures for colleges, but Gaskins couldn’t. Jeffries also asked whether colleges have been having issues, and Gaskins couldn’t name any specific issues.

Jeffries then asked Boso to delay the bill until someone could be there to explain “what’s going on.” Boso agreed, saying the committee was out of time anyway.

Boso is one of the sponsors of the Senate version.

There was also a lack of explanation for the legislation on the floor of the full House when it passed HB 3020.

House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson and the House version’s only sponsor, read almost verbatim on the House floor Feb. 26 from a short email sent to him that morning by Alan Perdue, general counsel of Shepherd University, in Espinosa’s district.

Perdue told the Gazette-Mail that Shepherd could’ve used the bill to help with a residence hall improvement project. He said Shepherd isn’t currently pursuing the same route for that project, but said the bill could be useful in the future.

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