Just before the General Assembly wrapped up this week, state lawmakers gave final approval to a bill changing how minority contractors are viewed when dealing with state contracts. Under the new legislation, state agencies fulfill their commitment to MBE by outsourcing 25 percent of the total value of their contracts to either of the defined minority groups, which includes, Blacks, women and other racial minorities.

Crossfiled Senate and House versions of the measure overwhelming cleared both chambers. Governor Martin O’Malley is expected to sign the legislation by mid-May before the new law takes effect July 1.

The stopgap legislation renews the state’s commitment to the MBE program, which expires July 1. Lawmakers are expected to formulate a long-term plan for the program next session, after completion of a comprehensive review of MBE.

The Presidents’ Roundtable, an organization of Black CEOs from the Baltimore Metropolitan area, support the measure, contending in a statement that it “will further strengthen the integrity of while at the same time provide the state and the affected stakeholders the much needed time to devise a practical and pragmatic approach to ensuring the continued inclusion of minority and woman-owned businesses in the Maryland procurement process.”

A recently released study vetting the MBE program found that disparities prevail in Maryland’s contracting market place, and in the last five years, most state contracts failed to garner the obligatory 25 percent minority participation.

Proponents of the new legislation say eliminating the percentage clauses for Black and women-owned businesses by mandating that 25 percent of awards go to any minority group will encourage state agencies to reach out to more minorities.

The bill also stiffens minority business participation clauses. Under the new rules, the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs must establish guidelines for state entities to allocate funds for sub groups; contractors must submit extensive proof that they were unable to attract qualified minority businesses before receiving pardons from the state; and state agencies must submit to Public Works and the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs annual reports detailing pardons requested and granted.

Delegate Barbara A. Robinson of Baltimore City said the legislation “contains some much needed requirements.”

“In the old MBE program, if the prime contractor did not attain the required MBE percentage, there were no consequences,” she said in a letter to the AFRO. “They were permitted to continue to bid on contracts and prove excuses.” The new bill includes debarment procedures for non-compliance.

“What this legislation means is that the state of Maryland is committed to building the program and making it stronger, more effective and create more opportunities for minority businesses,” said Luwanda W. Jenkins, special secretary for the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, which administers MBE. “It is the enabling legislation that allows us to legally continue the program.”