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Legislature passes bill aimed at increasing competitive bids for post-disaster housing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Legislature has passed a bill aimed at encouraging more construction companies to bid on housing contracts as people recover after natural disasters.

Lawmakers have been considering policy tweaks since last spring, and it took a while to settle on an approach. Now, the bill is among the first to pass the full Legislature during this regular session.

The bill passed the House of Delegates on Jan. 21 and then passed the Senate in amended form this Wednesday. The House of Delegates concurred with the Senate’s change today to finalize legislative action.

The bill is meant to affect bidding on the hundreds of housing contracts to help the people affected by the devastating 2016 flood.

The majority of those contracts have gone to North Carolina-based Thompson Construction, and elected leaders hope to encourage more bids by local companies.

“The intent is to streamline the purchasing process after a declared disaster,” said Delegate Dean Jeffries, R-Kanawha, chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding.

“As we saw in the past we had some problems with the way our purchasing and bidding process worked. We had to bid large amounts of projects out in a lump sum, which was an inefficient process.”

He said the new process will encourage bidding out in smaller sections, if not individually.

“It will also open up the doors for local contractors to get involved to build these houses,” he said. “Right now we have about four contractors involved in this process, and that’s not good for the state of West Virginia. One, it drives the cost up. And two, it’s keeping local contractors from getting involved in this process.”

West Virginia’s RISE program has completed 111 housing projects for flood victims, according to the most recent report from the state Adjutant General.

There are 368 active cases under RISE, so most still need to be completed.

“We still have a ways to go. We’re happy that there is progress being made. That is refreshing, but we still have folks needing to get their houses built,” Jeffries said.

Of the total number of homes still to be provided, 281 have already been awarded to a construction contractor or a subrecipient like West Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

So the legislation is likely to only affect 87 cases still awaiting a request for quotation. But the bill could improve the efficiency of future disaster relief efforts.

“Hopefully all 87 of those will be built under this new process and have local contractors be involved in building them,” Jeffries said.

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