(TRENTON) - The General Assembly on Monday approved a two-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Gordon Johnson, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Mila Jasey and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to provide business assistance to LGBT, veteran and disabled residents and ensure they are being properly served by state resources.
"LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, and veterans often face discrimination and bias in the workplace and transgender individuals, in particular, are disproportionately unemployed due to discrimination," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation would help them overcome certain discriminations by providing access to business assistance programs that are currently provided to other minority communities in the state."
The first bill (A-3891) is sponsored by Eustace, Johnson, Jasey and Vainieri Huttle and would allow the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the state Division of Revenue to provide assistance to businesses owned by lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender individuals, disabled individuals, and veterans, just as it does to other minority owned businesses in the state.
The bill establishes a number of vital assistance programs and services for LGBT, disabled and veteran-owned businesses, including:
- Establishing a loan referral and packing program for eligible businesses;
- Allowing the governing body of a county, municipality or school board to establish set-aside programs for qualified LGBT businesses, as is already allowed for veteran, disabled and other minority owned businesses;
- Compiling lists of qualified professionals in specific areas of expertise to be disseminated to eligible businesses and to be used in making referrals;
- Approving third-party agencies to perform certification and verification of eligible businesses; and
- Waiving bonding requirements in whole or in part if an eligible business has been rejected by two surety companies authorized to do business in New Jersey.
"These types of business assistance programs have proven successful in giving other minority owned businesses a leg up to overcome certain inherent biases and succeed," said Johnson (D-Bergen). "If we can apply them to help LGBT, veteran and disabled residents do the same, then by all means, we should."
"LGBT individuals, persons with a disability, and veterans have faced discrimination and bias far too often in the workplace and in business," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "To ensure everyone access to business assistance in this state, we need to make sure state programs are identifying and directing resources to businesses that have had a history of exclusion in some way and ensure they are included in state surveys and assistance programs."
The second bill (A-4216), sponsored by Eustace, Muoio, Jasey and Vainieri Huttle would require the collection of voluntary, self-disclosed information about sexual orientation and gender identity in certain surveys by state agencies in order to make sure that LGBT are fully accounted for and not being overlooked by state resources.
Any report published by an agency that relies on survey demographic data would be required to include information about sexual orientation and gender identity while adhering to confidentiality and privacy standards and policies for the protection of persons applicable to that survey.
"This bill is designed to ensure that LGBT residents are counted and recognized by official state surveys," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "Because these surveys are often used by state agencies and social service organizations to assess the needs of certain communities and apply for grants for programs and activities, it's important to make sure that this demographic is not invisible and overlooked."
"State surveys assess the needs of all businesses in the state," said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). "The surveys are only helpful if the information encompasses all businesses owners and not just a few. We want the economy to grow and stabilize and we can only do that by supporting all businesses regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or disability."
The Assembly approved A-3891, 50-14-10, and A-4216, 50-9-16. The bills were approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee on February 13. They will now go to the Senate for further consideration.