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State Ethics Law Protection Act Of 2010

Rep. James L. Oberstar

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Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 3427) to amend title 23, United States Code, to protect States that have in effect laws or orders with respect to pay to play reform, and for other purposes, as amended.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

The text of the bill is as follows:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the ``State Ethics Law Protection Act of 2010''.

Section 112 of title 23, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: ``(h) Pay To Play Reform.--A State transportation department shall not be considered to have violated a requirement of this section solely because the State in which that State transportation department is located, or a local government within that State, has in effect a law or an order that limits the amount of money an individual or entity that is doing business with a State or local agency with respect to a Federal-aid highway project may contribute to a political party, campaign, or elected official.''.

Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar) and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. LoBiondo) each will control 20 minutes.

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Minnesota.

Rep. James L. Oberstar

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Mr. Speaker, I yield such as he may consume to the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Quigley).

Rep. Mike Quigley

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Mr. Speaker, now more than ever, we must use every tool at our disposal to fight corruption. My home State of Illinois has made headlines time and again with charges of cronyism, corruption, and waste. Many of these charges involved pay-to-play politics, trading campaign contributions for government contracts.

In 2008, the Illinois General Assembly took a bipartisan stand by passing a bill to eliminate pay-to-play contracting. Amazingly, the Federal Government then told Illinois that it had to back down or risk losing highway funds. The Federal Highway Administration interpreted their competitive bidding requirements to mean that States couldn't weed out corrupt contractors. Clearly that wasn't the intent of this Chamber when it passed those requirements. That is why I am pleased we are debating this important fix.

H.R. 3427, the State Ethics Law Protection Act, will make it clear that Congress supports the right of States to fight corruption. States like Connecticut, New Jersey, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky have passed laws like Illinois', and others are debating similar bills. They are all arriving at the same bipartisan conclusion: Corruption must be stamped out and pay-to-play made a thing of the past. Our States have shown they are ready for reform. It is now our duty to ensure they have the ability to do so.

At this critical juncture, we must do all we can to inspire the trust and confidence of people across the country. After all, without the people's trust, we cannot govern. I wish to thank Chairman Oberstar and the committee for bringing this bill to the floor and urge my colleagues to support the State Ethics Law Protection Act.

Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

This is a commonsense good government bill which I support.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Rep. James L. Oberstar

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Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The gentleman from Illinois stated the case very clearly and thoughtfully, and the gentleman from New Jersey has further underscored the significance of this bill. This legislation makes clear that no State will be considered to have violated the Federal Highway Administration's competitive bidding requirements solely because the State chose to enact an anti-pay-to-play law. The bill would neither require a State to pass anti-pay-to-play nor prohibit a State from doing so. It would not weigh in on the merits of any existing State law. It simply removes what currently functions as a Federal prohibition on some States' efforts to prohibit pay-to-play. As the gentleman from New Jersey said, it is commonsense legislation, and I urge its passage.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 3427, as amended, the ``State Ethics Law Protection Act of 2010'', introduced by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Quigley).

This bill aids State efforts to clean up their procurement processes by removing the threat of the loss of Federal-aid highway funds if a State chooses to enact ``anti-pay-to-play'' reforms.

Specifically, H.R. 3427 provides that a State may not be considered to have violated the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) competitive bidding requirements solely because of the enactment of a State or local law prohibiting ``pay-to-play''.

In an effort to improve State procurement processes, many States have enacted anti-pay-to-play laws that limit the amount of money that an individual or entity doing business with a State agency may contribute to a political party, campaign, or elected official.

Unfortunately, FHWA has interpreted State anti-pay-to-play laws as potentially conflicting with the competitive bidding requirements that apply to the use of Federal-aid highway funds under title 23 of the United States Code.

As a result of this statutory requirement, FHWA has twice threatened to withhold Federal highway funds from States that enacted anti-pay-to-play laws that applied to contracts on Federal-aid highway projects. The first instance occurred in 2004 in New Jersey. The second occurred last year in Illinois.

The competitive bidding requirements of title 23 are designed to ensure that the lowest qualified bidder is awarded Federal-aid highway contracts. They are not designed to prevent States from conducting procurement under the highest ethical standards. Unfortunately, in some instances, they have had just this effect.

H.R. 3427 addresses this situation by making it clear that no State will be considered to have violated FHWA competitive bidding requirements solely because the State chose to enact an anti-pay-to-play law.

This bill would neither require any State to pass an ``anti-pay-to-play'' law nor prohibit it from doing so. It would not weigh in on the merits of any existing State law. It would simply remove what currently functions as a Federal prohibition on some States' efforts to prohibit ``pay-to-play''.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting H.R. 3427.

I yield back the balance of my time.

The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Oberstar) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 3427, as amended.

The question was taken; and (two-thirds being in the affirmative) the rules were suspended and the bill, as amended, was passed.

A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.