FILE - Louisiana State Capitol

The Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Opening a bid early did not violate state rules, a Louisiana Department of Health attorney told lawmakers Thursday.

Steve Russo, the department’s general counsel, told members of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council that bids for a Medicaid dental contract were due on a Tuesday. One came in on the previous Friday and was opened by an LDH staffer who was checking to see if the needed materials were inside, Russo said.

Opening the package would have been against the rules in a “sealed bid” process, Russo said, where the state generally takes the lowest bidder. These types of bids typically are opened all at once so no one finds out about anyone’s bid early and undercuts it to get the contract.

But the dental contract was to be awarded through a “competitive sealed proposal” process which is not dictated by whoever has the lowest bid, Russo said.

“There is not a like provision [for the second type of process] that I can find in the statutes that would prevent the opening of a bid before a set date and time,” he said. “It’s not a violation of the procurement code.”

Regardless, State Sen. Mike Walsworth, a West Monroe Republican, urged the department to change its procedures so the same thing doesn’t happen again.

“It looks like y’all went ahead and wiped the slate clean and said, ‘Look, let’s start from zero,’” Walsworth said. “No harm, no foul, hopefully.”

The department restarted the bid process after granting an unrelated protest, Russo said. A company objected to a requirement that a bidder have a certificate from the Louisiana Department of Insurance, arguing that it should be able to bid since its paperwork had been filed with the department but had not yet been processed.

Scoring of a new set of proposals for the dental contract is ongoing.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.