Exemption for prison food purchases stirs objections

Posted July 15, 2015

— Wake County and 26 other counties would be able to bypass state bidding rules when buying food for their prisons under a trio of bills to which the state Senate gave tentative approval Wednesday afternoon.

The three measures have already cleared the House and had an easy time when they were vetted in a Senate committee earlier this week.

"All this says is we're going to buy local when we can," Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said.

Normally, state purchase and contracting laws would require a county-run prison to obey certain competitive bidding requirements. Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, said Wednesday that the changes to the law would allow prisons to contract with local farms and providers. Similar rules, he said, already apply to school systems.

"This is actually making things more competitive," Gunn said.

But other senators disagreed. Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said that he had gotten emails saying that the change would allow counties to bypass rules meant to ensure minority-owned and women-owned businesses could compete for business.

Other senators said the change could allow county managers to give contracts to cronies.

"We are setting them up to create waste, fraud and abuse," Sen. Joel Ford, D-Mecklenburg, said.

Senators passed all three bills by wide margins, but McKissick raised a procedural objection that will require a second vote on Thursday.


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