Republicans and Democrats in the Iowa Senate have joined to unanimously pass a bill that calls for punishing violations of the state’s competitive bidding process.
The move comes after a lawsuit challenged how for-profit companies won the contracts for privatizing the state’s Medicaid program. Representatives of companies interested in landing the contract admit they talked with state employees who were reviewing the bids when those conversations were forbidden.
“We have black out periods when we are making procurement decisions for good reasons and that’s to make sure that people are confident that you don’t have to pay to play, that we have clean government in the state,” says Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines.
She says there should be consequences when people don’t follow the rules.
“In our own chamber, we have ‘yes’ (and) ‘no’ buttons at our desks and if a staff person were to push one of our buttons and vote in place of a senator, they’d be fired,” Petersen says.
If this bill becomes law, the director of the Department of Administrative Services would determine the sanctions. State employees who break the rules could be fined, suspended or fired. Companies that break the rules could be barred from doing business with the state.
“We should have consequences in place for bad actions,” Petersen says. “Without consequences, we reward bad behavior in this state.”
Last year four companies won state contracts to start managing care for 560-thousand Medicaid patients in Iowa. Three companies that had competed for that work sued, claiming the process was biased. One winning bidder was later disqualified because state workers talked with the company during the black-out period.