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State lawmaker overreaches with construction legislation



Published: Sat, June 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



If 91 percent of school construction work in Ohio is already being performed by Ohio-based companies, what is the point of enacting a law that requires school districts that undertake state-funded projects to hire only Ohio contractors?

There isn't one -- which is why we find a bill sponsored by state Rep. John Boccieri, D-New Middletown, unnecessary and risky. Boccieri may be well intentioned in requiring that state contractors get the work from school districts, but what he is advocating is a legislative overreach.

His bill, which has been assigned to the House Commerce and Labor Committee, would prohibit boards of education from granting construction jobs to contractors that do not have a principal place of business in Ohio.

"By requiring that these projects be granted to in-state contracts, Ohio will be supporting its local workers and construction companies and helping to boost the state's economy," Boccieri says. "It is a win-win situation for contractors and the state government."

But Ohio also has a law on the books that requires government contracts to go the lowest and best bidder. There's a reason for this: it ensures that the most qualified companies are selected and also that taxpayer money isn't squandered.

Public scrutiny: By insisting on a Ohio first policy, a populist initiative that replicates U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr's "Buy American" campaign, the freshman state legislator is tying the hands of the school systems that are already under public scrutiny due to the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on construction of new schools and the upgrading the many existing buildings.

In order to be good stewards of the public treasury, school boards must have the flexibility to choose the most qualified bidder -- especially when it comes to such specialized work as the installation of the latest in computer technology.

Of course we want Ohio companies to benefit from the massive school construction effort that has been launched by Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio General Assembly. But being in a border area, we also want Ohio companies to be able to bid on public projects in Pennsylvania. Boccieri's protectionism could have far-reaching consequences.

This is the second time in recent weeks that an area legislator in his freshman year has introduced legislation that has a feel-good element to it.

Nurses: Last month, we urged state Sen. Timothy Ryan, D-Warren, to withdraw a bill he had introduced that would ban health care facilities from mandating overtime and would prohibit nurses from working more than 18 hours a day.

While we acknowledged Ryan's eagerness to do something for the striking nurses at Forum Health, scheduling health care workers is a complicated national issue that does not lend itself to quick legislative fixes.

We applaud Boccieri and Ryan for their enthusiasm and desire to become actively involved in the legislative process, but when sponsoring bills they would do well to closely study the ramifications of what they are proposing.




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