House panel OKs small-business bill

Steele lobbied heavily in effort to revamp minority program

General Assembly

April 09, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

In the face of intense lobbying by Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and minority business leaders, a House committee passed legislation yesterday that would direct 10 percent of all state contracting dollars to small businesses.

The measure is part of an effort by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration to revamp the state's Minority Business Enterprise Program.

Steele and several dozen business and community leaders gathered early yesterday outside the State House for a rally, during which they called on lawmakers to act on the legislation.

"It's not about Republicans or Democrats, black or white," Steele said during the rally. "It's all about team effort. ... We really can do some things for small and minority businesses."

Before the rally ended, Del. John Adams Hurson, chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, signaled to Steele that the bill would go forward, which it did.

Last spring, Ehrlich appointed Steele chairman of a commission to study the state's Minority Business Enterprise Program, which the governor deemed a "sham" in the way it had been operating. His comment followed a Department of Legislative Services audit that showed the state's requirements for the program were not being met.

Ehrlich then assembled a team headed by Steele to make recommendations to improve the program. Those suggestions were presented to the governor in a report at the beginning of this year.

The administration and members of the General Assembly then proposed legislation to improve the program.

The measure has passed the Senate. The full House is expected to review the legislation today.

The core of the measure is the proposal to direct work specifically to qualified small businesses, a list of which would be developed by the Department of General Services. It would be a race-neutral program for which all small businesses could compete.

"This is truly a monumental moment," Shelonda Stokes, vice chairwoman of the governor's commission, said during yesterday's rally. "This is about change."

Added Garland Williamson of the President's Roundtable in Baltimore: "We're not asking for welfare. We're not asking for a handout. We're asking to be treated fairly."

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