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The 92nd General Assembly got off to a quick start. Among the measures voted on during the opening days of the 2019 legislative were bills of interest to Arkansas city officials.

By a 33-to-1 vote, the Senate approved legislation to allow cities to accept legal payments through a credit card or debit card. The city can enter a contract with a credit card company to operate the system, and the city would pay the ordinary “swipe fees” to the credit card company, as retailers do.

The senator who voted against the bill wanted a limit on the transactions fees that cities may charge. The bill is SB 98, and it now goes to the House of Representatives.

The House Committee on City, County and Local Affairs advanced legislation that raises the threshold at which cities must seek bids before they make a purchase, from $20,000 to $50,000.

The bill allows cities to avoid the process of competitive bidding in exceptional situations, such as after tornadoes or natural disasters. The city could waive the usual bid process if it were deemed not feasible or practical. The bill is HB 1041.

Another House committee advanced a package of five bills to tighten the state’s process of purchasing goods and entering contracts. The bills are the product of a lengthy study by the Review Committee into procurement procedures used by state agencies. The committee hired a consultant to do much of the research.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee endorsed these five bills:

  • HB 1161 to define what constitutes a material change in a contract of more than $100,000. Contracts between a state agency and a vendor that do not change don’t come under the same degree of legislative scrutiny as contracts that undergo material changes.

  • HB 1162 to require objective performance standards in contracts for services if they cost the state more than $1 million a year or $7 million total.

  • HB 1179 to set out criteria that a losing bidder may follow to protest the awarding of a contract to a competitor.

  • HB 1180 tightens the rules under which agencies can enter cooperative purchasing contracts.

  • HB 1181 to prevent a firm from submitting a bid for projects with the state if it is currently under contract with the state and there are outstanding material issues, such as delays in completing the work.

In a unanimous vote, the Senate approved SB 4 to create a legislative task force that will focus on veterans’ issues, particularly the high rate of suicides by veterans. The task force will also study the availability of mental health care. It will issue a report to the General Assembly in time for action during the 2021 regular session.

The House approved HB 1177 to regulate the use of microchips by companies that wish to have them surgically implanted in workers for security, or other reasons.

Also this week, senators got their first look at legislation to reorganize state government, reducing the number of cabinet-level agencies from 42 to 15 and saving taxpayers about $15 million a year through greater efficiency.

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