Why is college so expensive these days, anyway?UC LogoKaty Grimes of Cal Watchdog uncovered some potentially dangerous weirdness in a California Assembly bill. Potentially dangerous weirdness is an unfortunately common component of Golden State legislation and is often not an obstacle to passage. This one has all the hallmarks of the way union workers got themselves exempted from harassment laws while engaging in picketing. Grimes reports:

Public contracts should always be subjected to stiff scrutiny. Without public scrutiny and oversight, spending other people’s money is too easy.

But a new Assembly bill would not only increase the amount of money California’s public universities and colleges could spend without adhering to the competitive bid process, but would also exempt state employees from felony charges of corruption.

What AB 173 would do is allow colleges to award contracts for goods or services to small businesses or “disabled veteran” businesses for up to $250,000 without having to turn to a bidding process.  After the bill made it through a committee, sponsor Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) then amended the bill to exempt University of California employees from the state’s corruption laws in connection with these contract agreements, including the part of the California code that states, “Any officer or employee of the University of California who corruptly performs any official act under this chapter to the injury of the university is guilty of a felony.”

Grimes reported she was unable to get an explanation from Weber’s office for this change. On Wednesday, the bill went before the Assembly Appropriations Committee:

Fortunately this time, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, asked Weber about the amendment, and why it was made. Before Harkey could even complete her question, Weber interjected that she was removing the amendment. “We were asked to include it, as a request,” Weber told the Committee. “It is going to be eliminated.”

But Weber did not say who asked her to put the amendment in AB 173 which would have exempted state college and university employees from corruption prosecution under the California Public Contracts Code.

And as far as Grimes can tell (and I have to agree), the exemption is still in the legislation. It’s even noted in italics in the legislative counsel’s digest.