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Backers decry veto of Oklahoma bill on legal work

Backers decry veto of Oklahoma bill on legal work

This article first appeared in The Oklahoman

BY JULIE BISBEE
Published: May 13, 2009

The veto of a bill to require state agencies to open competitive bidding for legal services is puzzling and halts efforts to add accountability to how the state hires private attorneys, bill authors said.

Gov. Brad Henry vetoed House Bill 2167 on Friday, saying it was "well intended,” but "potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences.”

Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, said the state’s system of hiring private attorneys needs to be reformed, and HB 2167 would have brought accountability to the system. He authored the bill. In March, an analysis by The Oklahoman of records kept by the attorney general’s office showed the state paid private attorneys nearly $24 million over three years. Some firms included former state officials.

HB 2167 would have required state agencies to use a competitive bid process when legal services and fees were expected to be more than $5,000. Contracts expected to exceed $500,000 had to be filed with the governor’s office, according to the bill.

In his veto statement, Henry said "many state agencies could easily comply with the contracting restrictions in question, but those agencies, such as Oklahoma Department of Transportation, that must respond quickly to a lawsuit ... such mandates would impair their ability to respond to pressing legal issues or to timely complete crucial projects.”

Paul Sund, Henry’s spokesman, said a competitive bidding process for attorneys could slow contracts at some agencies and "it would be an administrative nightmare that increased costs and caused the state to miss court-imposed deadlines.”

Rules prevent lawmakers from bringing up the idea again until 2011. There are no plans for a veto override effort, McCullough said.

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