Topeka Gov. Bill Graves' administration Tuesday voiced opposition to a plan by the Kansas Board of Regents to skirt state construction laws in building three research facilities, including one at Kansas University.
"These statutes are laws passed by the Kansas Legislature and signed by a governor with the intent of providing checks and balances to prevent the misappropriation of taxpayer dollars," said Joe Fritton, director of the Division of Facilities Management.
The division is under Graves' Secretary of Administration Joyce Glasscock and is responsible for providing administrative oversight of state-funded construction projects in Kansas.
Fritton's comments came during a House budget-writing committee meeting on a proposal to issue $110 million in bonds to finance a biomedical research center at KU, a food safety laboratory at Kansas State University and aviation facility at Wichita State University.
The regents have requested exemptions from numerous laws dealing with construction of state buildings, saying the statutes would add needless costs and delays to the projects.
"We are breaking the chains of the past that have made us operate inefficiently as universities," Regents Chairman Clay Blair said.
But Fritton defended the laws.
"With these laws in place, the state of Kansas has had no scandals associated with building construction in the last 23 years," Fritton said.
Fritton asked the House Appropriations Committee to amend the proposal in a way that would give the secretary of administration authority to establish policies on bidding, design, construction and code compliance for the buildings.
But Blair said, "You don't build buildings that way."
Committee Chairman Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, asked that Blair and Fritton try to work out a compromise.
Wilk said there is broad legislative support for building the facilities but that the details of how to go about it need to be worked out.
Several lawmakers said they had concerns about exempting the regents from some of the statutes because the state was liable for the projects.
The meeting Tuesday represented the second time the research facility bill has hit a snag.
Last week, associations representing architects, engineers and contractors opposed exemptions in the bill from state laws dealing with public disclosure and how the state negotiates for professional services.
Blair and other regents officials met with the groups last week in Lawrence and hammered out a compromise, which included removing the exemption from public disclosure rules.
But that compromise didn't go far enough for the Graves administration.
Fritton said that under the proposal the buildings would be exempt from building inspections by the state and there was no requirement for building code compliance or authority to enforce code compliance.
Blair said the regents board doesn't want to bypass inspections but wants them done in a more timely manner. He said the state often holds up construction projects because it can't make an inspection on time.
KU officials support the research facility bill but have taken a low profile before the committee. They have, however, been working behind the scenes to get the Legislature to free KU from having to pay the 1 percent fee to the state for architectural services, which on large projects can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.