ANNAPOLIS – More minority-owned businesses would have a shot at state contracts under a Glendening administration bill approved by the Senate Tuesday.
The bill would raise the goal for minority contractors on state-funded proposals from 14 to 25 percent.
Black- and women-owned businesses have been discriminated against and underused in Maryland, according to a study released in January by National Economic Research Associates.
The Senate bill establishes a 25 percent minority contracting goal, made up of 7 percent black-owned businesses, 10 percent women-owned businesses and the other 8 percent reserved for other minority groups, including Hispanics and those with disabilities.
The bill, which passed 39-8, also requires the Board of Public Works to find ways to increase minority-business participation in private sector contracts.
The bill and its House counterpart have been controversial. Members of the Legislative Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus protested efforts to weaken the bill’s guarantee for minority-owned businesses with a walkout on the House debate last week.
Thursday, the Senate defeated a series of amendments, including one to create a goal for Hispanic-owned businesses within the larger 25 percent goal.
Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, was the chief proponent of the Hispanic measure. He cited U.S. Census 2000 data showing a rapidly growing Hispanic population that has reached 35.3 million.
“If you’re going to use quota systems, you need to do it in a fair way,” said Mooney, whose mother immigrated to the United States from Cuba.
Mooney said he has reservations about goals, but all minority groups should be included if any are given a goal.
“I have questions about doing it (creating goals) in the first place,” he said. “I think you should award the contract to the best person at the best price.”
Delegate Dana Dembrow, D-Montgomery, proposed an amendment to the House bill Tuesday to include a Hispanic-owned business goal.
“I’m in favor of this bill, but let’s include everybody,” he said. Dembrow’s amendment was also defeated.
Delegate Michael Dobson, D-Baltimore, said the National Economics Research Study disparity index for minority-owned businesses showed less discrimination overall for Hispanic-owned businesses in Maryland.
“All their concerns were welcomed and reviewed, and I think they’re going to be satisfied by this bill,” said Dobson, a member of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee. “When you look at the numbers, there’s no justification to carve out another category.”
The Senate’s vote was a victory for the Legislative Black Caucus and the Women’s Caucus, who worked together to preserve the 25 percent limit. The caucuses made the legislation a top priority, said Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, who called the bill “well-thought out” and “based on solid methodology.”
The bill is “proportionate to the capacity of contractors of different minority groups,” she said, adding the 8 percent designation for other minority groups can include Hispanics, Asians, disabled persons or other groups.
It is important to have the goals to insure minority-owned groups are fairly represented in contract procurement, she said.
“These are public dollars we’re talking about. These are everybody’s dollars,” Kelley said.
And Kelly disagrees with senators who tried to get the 25 percent goal lowered and believes it isn’t too high.
“Another way of looking at it,” she said, “we’ve reserved at least 75 percent of everything for white males.”