Bill Bringing Transparency To State Employee Contracting Wins Final Legislative Approval

CARSON CITY – A bill aimed at increasing transparency and accountability for state employees working as contractors saw final legislative approval today when the Assembly and Senate reached agreement on compromise language to the measure.

Assembly Bill 240, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, will now go to Gov. Brian Sandoval for his consideration.

There was a bit of drama in the Senate when a vote to adopt the conference committee report resolving differences with the Assembly saw a tie 10-10 vote after Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, expressed some reservations about the effect of the measure on the ability of state agencies to deliver services with a reduced workforce.

“We’re imposing a two-year moratorium for employees exiting state service when we’re about to lay off 600 state and (Nevada System of Higher Education) employees,” he said. “My concern is we will have unintended consequences on this one.”

With Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, out of the chambers, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, the president of the Senate, exercised a rare opportunity to vote, and he sided with those rejecting the report, which then failed 11-10.

The drama was short-lived, however, as the Senate reconsidered the report upon Horsford’s return, adopting the report and sending the bill to the governor.

After acknowledging the positive elements of the bill in seeking to eliminate double-dipping by state workers, Kieckhefer decided in the second discussion to support the measure. It then won a unanimous vote from the Senate.

The legislation was prompted by an audit of Nevada state agencies using current and former employees as contractors. It identified numerous potential concerns, including a case of one worker seeking payment for 25 hours of work in one 24-hour day.

The audit also found an example of a current state employee earning $62,590 as a contractor in fiscal years 2008 and 2009 while earning a state salary as well.

The audit identified 250 current and former employees providing services to the state. These employees were paid a total of $11.6 million during fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the years covered by the review.

Smith said the Senate amendment to the bill, and the changes agreed to in the conference committee, strengthen the rules that will govern current and former state employees who work as contractors.

Smith said she sent the bill to conference to address some concerns raised by state Budget Director Andrew Clinger. The main change is to have the information on contracting reported to the Board of Examiners, headed by Sandoval, rather than the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, she said.

“We certainly don’t want it to be an impediment; we want it to work; so absolutely we’re good,” Smith said. “It strengthened it because we raised the cooling off period from one year to two years, so we actually strengthened the bill.”

The bill would prohibit a current state employee from being hired under contract by a state agency unless approved by the Board of Examiners. The same approval would be required of a former state employee who has not been out of state employment for at least two years.

Such contracts could only be approved if certain circumstances are found to exist, including situations where a short-term or unusual economic circumstance exists for an agency requiring such employment.

The bill also requires all contracts with individuals entered into by the state or the higher education system to ensure the individuals being hired are in good standing with the secretary of state’s office with regard to business licensing.

Audio clips:

Assemblywoman Debbie Smith says the bill went to conference to address some concerns by Budget Director Andrew Clinger:

060611Smith1 :12 absolutely we’re good.”

Smith said the bill is actually stronger as a result:

060611Smith2 :07 strengthened the bill.”