(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Sheila Oliver, Cleopatra Tucker and Annette Quijano to ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses in New Jersey have equal access to state contracts cleared a Senate panel on Monday.
"While progress has been made, women- and minority-business owners continue to face challenges that limit their ability to grow," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "The provisions in this legislation are necessary to ensure that the equality of opportunity guaranteed by federal and state law are available to minority-owned and women-owned businesses in this state."
The bill (A-1869) would establish a Division of Minority and Women Business Development in the State Department of the Treasury. The division would be headed by a state chief disparity officer, and would administer and monitor policies, practices and programs to further the state's efforts to ensure equal opportunity for minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises in purchasing and procurement by state departments and agencies, including independent state authorities.
"This agency would ensure that businesses owned by women and minorities have an equal opportunity to provided needed services to the state," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We want to ensure that the state's public contracting process is fair and equitable, and this legislation does that."
"There are many competent and professional businesses looking for these types of opportunities," said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). "Having this division in place would not only ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses have an equal shot at state contracts, but that the state benefits from diverse and capable businesses that might otherwise fall through the cracks."
"It is not uncommon to hear minority-owned businesses interested in government contracts complain about being bypassed," said Tucker (D-Essex). "This bill can help determine whether this is an isolated problem, or a problem across the board, and ensure that businesses owned by minorities and women that are qualified and experienced have a fair shot at doing work for the state."
"The state has a responsibility to ensure that its contracting process is equitable and accessible to all qualified businesses," said Quijano (D-Union). "This is not about favoring one type of business over another; it is about making sure that all businesses interested in bidding for state contracts and are capable of doing the work can throw their hats in the ring and be considered."
The state chief disparity officer would monitor the state's public contracting process for the purpose of compiling information on the awarding of contracts to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises, including the total value of all contracts and the percentage of the value of those contracts awarded to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises. The officer would have to periodically report his or her findings to the governor and the Legislature.
The bill would also require that provisions of existing law concerning state certification of minority-owned and women-owned businesses be fully implemented and would prohibit self-certification by these businesses.
Lastly, the bill would provide that contracts valued at less than $200,000, awarded through the state's small business set-aside program, would not be publicly advertised for bids but would, instead, be negotiated with small businesses using a competitive contracting process.
The bill would take effect immediately.
The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee released the bill on Monday. The Assembly approved the measure on April 13.