Ark. High Court Upholds State’s No-Bid Contracts Law

Wed December 24, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) Arkansas’ highest court ruled Dec. 11 that a state law allowing no-bid contracts on some state construction projects is constitutional.

The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a Pulaski County judge’s ruling that the 2001 law allowing the no-bid contracts on projects of $5 million or more does not violate the state constitution. A judge ruled in January against a group of contractors who said it violated a section of the constitution that says building and bridge contracts “in any county’’ must be competitively bid.

The Supreme Court issued a 6-0 ruling that said the constitution’s language applied only to county construction projects — not state projects.

“The term ’all contracts’ in section 16 is expressly limited by the words ’in any county,’’’ Justice Robert Brown wrote in the court’s ruling. “As a result, the plain language of the section already restricts its applicability to county contracts, and an amendment is not necessary.’’

Justice Elana Wills, who previously worked in the state attorney general’s office, did not participate in the case.

At issue in the case were at least $800 million in state building contracts awarded since the 2001 law.

State officials have argued that the no-bid method gives taxpayers a better deal when contracts are awarded based on a firm’s expertise and not on price.

During oral arguments recently, justices questioned the argument by lawyers for the Contractors for Public Protection Association that the constitution’s language should be applied to state projects. They noted that the same section of the constitution refers to “alms-house’’ and bridges, which at the time of the constitution’s writing were county projects.

Ron Hope, an attorney for the contractors group, argued that the constitution should be read broadly to apply to evolving situations.