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House passes bill to rein in no-bid contracts, emergency spending in COVID-19

Posted at 6:13 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 20:19:03-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — The House of Representatives voted unanimously on Thursday to pass a bill that sets guardrails on the governor's use of emergency spending.

House Bill 43, sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, is in response to spending by former Governor Gary Herbert during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FOX 13 first reported last year that Gov. Herbert authorized spending for a number of urgent needs in the COVID-19 pandemic utilizing what's known as "emergency procurement powers." In a state of emergency, it authorizes a governor to spend as they wish.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Herbert authorized millions for personal protective equipment, a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine (that Utah later got a refund on), and multi-million dollar contracts with Utah tech companies. All were done without a public bid process.

Ultimately, the state spent more than $108 million using emergency procurement last year. But some of those purchases had both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill concerned. It sparked audits and this investigation.

"As you’ve reported, some of those things you look at and you wonder, is this really urgent?" Rep. Pierucci said Thursday. "Did it really need to happen? And should the length really be a year when there’s an emergency?"

HB43 sets guardrails. Under the bill, a governor can only authorize 30-day contracts in a state of emergency and then it must be opened to a public bid process. It will be 60 days for a natural disaster, because clean-up efforts can take more than a month, Rep. Pierucci said.

"This bill is generous in that it allows the executive branch to be nimble, while also putting a cap on the amount of time and again that transparency and reporting process is in place," she told FOX 13.

Rep. Pierucci said she has been working with the executive branch of government as the bill has moved forward. The House passed the bill unanimously with no debate. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

"It’s taxpayer dollars. To me, the competitive bid process maximizes our needs as the government and also maximizes the use of taxpayer dollars by getting the best bang for our buck," Rep. Pierucci said.

Governor Spencer Cox was asked by FOX 13 about the emergency procurement bill at his weekly news conference on COVID-19. He said he is working with the legislature on it, and signaled his support.

"Certainly in an emergency and early in an emergency, it’s important that we have that ability," he said of emergency spending. "But we have no problem working closely with them, that over time we go through the normal procurement process."

HB43 now goes to the Senate for consideration. Another bill is in the works that will set a spending limit on emergency procurement. House Bill 114, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, will be heard by a House committee on Friday.