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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A bill designed to help local contractors secure projects within Wyoming passed the state House of Representatives 54-4 on Thursday.

Senate File 144 now goes back to the Senate for a vote on House changes.

The bill authorizes a one-year pilot project beginning July 1.

It can be modified by the governor through an executive order if he decides that step is necessary to promote effective competitive bidding.

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Interim Committee, meanwhile, will study the impacts of the changes under the bill and propose permanent changes to contractor preference laws for the 2012 legislative session.

The bill requires that, unless exempted, the construction manager or design builder must award to local subcontractors not less than 70 percent of the value of the total subcontract work for the project. The requirement can be waived if the work is of a scale that it is more suitable for out-of-state contractors.

The bill continues the 5 percent preference for Wyoming contractors.

It is designed to eliminate a loophole that allows out-of-state contractors to get the 5 percent preference by opening an office in the state.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, tried to amend the bill to exempt cities and counties and make it apply only to the state, the University of Wyoming and the community colleges.

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Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Big Horn, a co-chairman of the Joint Appropriations Committee, objected on grounds the bill should apply to all public projects.

She pointed out the supplemental state budget before the Legislature includes $45 million to cities and counties for construction and $40 million for highway construction.

Berger also said she received appeals from many Wyoming contractors who claim they were not given a chance to bid on state projects.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said there never was any consideration given to exempting cities and counties.

“It’s about all publicly funded projects,” Harshman said. “We don’t want to see the bid-shopping that’s been going on.”

Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper, opposed the amendment. “I don’t want us to take any teeth out of this,” he said.

House Majority Leader Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said the amendment isn’t necessary because the bill allows for “opt-out” waivers.

The bill requires any agency that receives an appropriation of state money for any capital construction project to determine whether contractors who were awarded contracts using the resident preference “complied in all respects to resident preference laws.”

If the agency decides there is reasonable suspicion that a contractor did not comply with the laws, the agency must report the matter to the state attorney general and the state Department of Employment for possible enforcement action.

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