Almost a year after a federal judge ordered Baltimore to stop enforcing its minority contracting law, Mayor Martin O'Malley signed a new law yesterday to the cheers of city political and minority business leaders.
"It's back on the books," O'Malley said after signing the bill.
Under the new provision, the percentage of city contracts awarded to minority- and women-run businesses will be set each year by the Board of Estimates, the five-member panel that reviews city financial transactions.
In addition, O'Malley has issued an executive order to all departments setting a goal of 35 percent of city contracts to be awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses.
The mayor called the law critical to attracting more minority- and women-owned businesses to bid on city work. "It says to all, we are not retreating from the goals," he said. "We're advancing."
City Council President Sheila Dixon lauded O'Malley for pushing the legislation in the wake of the federal ruling and for gaining input from minority business leaders.
O'Malley and Dixon were praised by Arnold Jolivet, president of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association.
"I'm glad to be here, because I know what it's like not to have the ordinance," Jolivet said. "Today, we're victorious." City political leaders, however, said victory could be short-lived.
Lawyers for the Maryland Utility Contractors Association Inc., which successfully challenged the city's previous minority contracting law, said they have not reviewed the new measure but that the group continues to oppose any race, gender and ethnicity requirements.
In December, U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis ordered the city to stop enforcing a previous law that required 20 percent of all city contracts to be granted to minorities and 3 percent to women-owned businesses, saying the city failed to collect the data to show that disparities continued to exist.
The city developed the new law based on an updated, $200,000 study that showed city contracts continued to primarily benefit "non-minority men."
City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said yesterday that keeping the data up to date could help fend off new challenges.
"Our regional economic development success depends on the participation of women, minority and small businesses," Pratt said.