Minority business advocates are praising a new Maryland law that imposes stiff sanctions on state contractors found guilty of discriminatory practices. The legislation may become a blueprint for other states looking to level the playing field for those seeking contracts.
The “commercial nondiscrimination” legislation, signed into law in Maryland in May, prohibits the state from entering into a procurement contract with a company found to have discriminated in the solicitation, selection, hiring, or commercial treatment of vendors, suppliers, subcontractors, and other commercial customers.
Unlike affirmative action or set-aside programs, “there is no racial preference in this policy,” says Franklin M. Lee, a partner with the law firm of Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler. The legislation, modeled after the South African divestiture movement, is gender and race neutral.
Still, African American and other minority business owners are excited about the policy’s potential to bridge racial gaps in the private sector. “The holy grail for us is economic parity,” says Garland O. Williamson, president of the Presidents’ RoundTable, a Maryland-based advocacy group for African American businesses. “This policy moves us closer to that goal.”
Williamson, who lobbied for the legislation, says it is important to note that “this is not a civil rights bill, this is a business bill. Just like businesses adhere to other regulations like clean air and wage laws, we look at this as just one more set of business laws.”
Anthony W. Robinson, president of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., agrees. “It is a policy that can be pursued without fear that it can be challenged in the courts. It is something that the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed,” says Robinson. So, “it doesn’t hold the same vulnerabilities as minority set-aside programs.”