- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi House on Monday passed the final version of a bill to tighten parts of the state contract process, but a House chairman said the Senate weakened it.

House Bill 825 passed 102-16 and goes to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who has said he wants to bring more openness to government spending.

Some representatives who voted against the bill Monday said they wanted to force it into a final round of negotiations with the Senate to restore parts of the bill that the Senate removed.

But Republican Rep. Jerry Turner of Baldwyn, chairman of the House Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, said he feared the bill would die if it were sent into negotiations because the Senate killed a similar bill last year.

“The Lord willing, we’ll be back next year,” Turner said. “We’ll be able to address any shortcomings this bill has.”

The bill would establish a board made up of people appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor to examine any state contract worth at least $75,000, Turner said. Under current law, a board made up of state agency directors examines state contracts that are worth at least $100,000.

Turner said the Senate weakened the bill by removing provisions that would have prevented large contracts from being broken into smaller pieces to avoid scrutiny.

The Senate also removed requirements that public officials file annual ethics reports disclosing gifts from people who are not relatives or friends, Turner said.

“I cannot for the life of me understand why the Mississippi state Senate would water down a transparency bill,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson. “What in the world were they thinking?”

The bill was filed after a contract scandal last year led to the resignation of Christopher Epps, who had been state corrections commissioner for a dozen years. Epps and Brandon businessman Cecil McCrory await sentencing after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Some companies connected to McCrory received no-bid contracts at the Department of Corrections.

It was not immediately clear whether revamping the contract review board, as proposed in House Bill 825, would curb the types of problems revealed by the indictments of Epps and McCrory.


Online: Bill 825, https://bit.ly/1Ak0GVX


Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus

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