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Bill aimed at post-disaster contract transparency moves forward

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A bill designed to curb the governor's authority to award no-bid contracts in emergency situations cleared the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Prevention Committee Monday.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Linda R. Greenstein (D-Cranbury) and Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Edison), the likely Democratic nominee to run against Gov. Chris Christie.

Under current law, the governor has broad authority to sign contracts at times of emergency without going through the normal bidding process. Christie used those powers after Hurricane Sandy to award a state debris removal contract to the politically connected Florida-based firm AshBritt Inc., a decision that's drawn criticism from legislative Democrats in recent weeks and was the subject of a contentious joint legislative oversight hearing last week. The AshBritt contract was based on a contract Connecticut signed with the company back in 2008, following a standard bidding process.

The bill, S-2584, would create a fast-track public bidding process for use during emergencies. Under the bill, firms wishing to be considered for an emergency services contract would have 48 hours to submit a bid electronically. The bill would also place such contracts under the state's pay-to-play laws, which restrict the ability of politicians to award contracts to donors to their political campaigns.

In a press release, Buono said the bill would balance the need for speed and transparency in emergency situations.

"Without question, it was necessary for swift and thorough clean-up after such a disastrous storm as Sandy," she said, "but with an open and transparent process, we can be sure that relief funds are being spent efficiently and appropriately."

The bill was released from committee on a 3-0-2 vote. The committee's three Democrats voted in favor, while the two Republicans abstained.

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