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Bill would waive rule in order to qualify more contractors for state projects

The student union at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s campus is now undergoing a roughly $40 million renovation project. A bill now before the state Legislature would eliminate a rule now requiring contractors show proof that they’ve worked on a project worth at least half of the estimated value of any state project they plan to bid on. (Photo courtesy of UW-Milwaukee)

A bill in the state Legislature seeks to open state construction projects up to more competition by waiving a rule that now prevents contractors from vying for jobs unless they can show they’ve done something in the past that’s at least half as big as what they’re bidding on.

Under current law, the state Department of Administration will allow contractors to bid on a particular state project only if they prove they’ve completed a job that’s at least 50% as large or as valuable.  Eliminating that requirement would help small contractors compete for state projects, said Rep. Jesse Rodriguez, a Republican from Oak Creek and the lead author of the legislation, formally named Assembly Bill 586.

At the same time, the proposal would keep intact a rule now preventing contractors from bidding unless they can show they have a 100% performance bond and a 100% payment bond.

“Securing a full performance bond and full payment bond is sufficient to protect the interest of Wisconsin taxpayers,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Therefore, this bill repeals the requirement that a bidder demonstrate completion of a project with a minimum size or value in relation to the type of state project being bid on.”

AB 586 was introduced in the state Senate last week and in the state Assembly in late September. It has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing and so far has no support from Democrats.

In addition to waiving the 50% rule, the bill would specify that the Department of Administration can’t call on contractors to furnish evidence of having had particular project experiences, unless those experiences are specifically related to the project being bid out. The proposal, however, preserves DOA officials’ ability to impose additional bidding requirements if they decide that specific experience is needed in a given instance.

The rules are part of the state’s contractor certification program, which requires construction companies to be certified with the state before competing for projects worth more than $50,000. The changes took effect in the state’s 2013-2015 budget period, when Wisconsin switched to a single-prime system of project delivery.

In addition to the 50% rule, the Department of Administration’s certification program allows bids only from companies that can show that they’ve been in business for at least a year, that they have the capacity to take on whatever work they’re seeking to bid on and that they’ve performed at least one project for a public entity, among other things.

About Nate Beck, [email protected]

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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