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Borrello backs comptroller review of state contracts

Too many contracts have gone without review by the state Comptroller’s Office during the pandemic for Sen. Elijah Reichlin-Melnick’s liking.

The Senate Procurements and Contracts Committee that Reichlin-Melnick chairs recently passed two pieces of legislation on to the full Senate to rectify the situation.

State disaster emergency declarations originally set to last 30 days have lasted more than two years. Among the issues is allowing state agencies to enter into contracts worth tens of millions of dollars without the review by the comptroller’s office that state law would otherwise require outside a disaster emergency. Reichlin-Melnick said state agencies need flexibility to address emergencies, but two years is too long to have contracts not being reviewed.

“This is a bill which I’ve introduced really to take into account that over the last couple of years we’ve seen disaster emergency declarations that stretch on far past the 30 days,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “We have these very clear rules in place for the comptroller to review contracts and make sure there is not fraud and other issues taking place and for governors to continue to suspend those clearly poses significant risks.”

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, joined Senate Republicans in February demanding Gov. Kathy Hochul end the statewide disaster emergency. Hochul extended the emergency in mid-February despite acknowledging COVID cases had decreased. Republicans introduced resolutions to end the emergency declaration but were unsuccessful.

Borrello was quick to support Reichlin-Melnick’s legislation.

“Great bill,” Borrello said during the committee meeting. “Great idea — accountability and separation of powers.”

The committee also approved S.8086, sponsored by Reichlin-Melnick, which requires the state Comptroller’s Office to conduct a study on certain contracts entered into during the two-year disaster emergency. Reichlin-Melnick wants to see if the state’s Finance Law was followed during the disaster emergency by allowing the Comptroller’s Office to review contracts that would have been reviewed had the disaster declaration not been place.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office would have a year to complete the review and make recommendations to follow state law if there is another disaster emergency that exceeds 30 days in length.

“Again this is a bill which we want to do to respond to what we saw, which was this extended suspension of normal procedures and to try to get to the bottom of whether there were procedures that were not followed during this extended period of suspension of policy over COVID and have the comptroller take a look at that and really evaluate some of the contracts which were entered into without that normal review process,” Reichlin-Melnick said.

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