By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun
8:47 PM EDT, June 3, 2013
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a bill that will require businesses getting large city contracts or financial support to hire 51 percent of new workers from Baltimore.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will let the bill become law without her signature, her spokesman said afterward.
Approval of the legislation, sponsored by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, means Baltimore will join cities including San Francisco and Boston in adopting such an ordinance.
"I would like to thank my colleagues on the City Council for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me to place the needs of our unemployed and underemployed citizens first," Young said in a statement after the vote.
Young has said the bill is needed to combat Baltimore's stubborn unemployment rate, which sits at 9.4 percent.
The measure was opposed by the Greater Baltimore Committee, which pointed to an opinion by the city solicitor that such a law would be unconstitutional. The business group sent letters to council members asking them to change their positions and vote down the law.
"The concept is well intended," said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the business group. "If you're going to invest city dollars in contracts or tax incentives, it's not an unreasonable expectation to want to see as many city residents hired as possible. The problem is it mandates a percentage in such a way that it does not withstand constitutional muster. I don't think it's good public policy for anybody to pass something when their legal adviser says it's unconstitutional."
Rawling-Blake cited the opposition of the business group and her Law Department in deciding not to sign the bill, said spokesman Ryan O'Doherty.
The mayor "respects the will of the City Council," O'Doherty said. "However, due to the significant concerns raised by the Law Department and job creators in the business community, she will not sign the bill."
Young said the legislation is modeled after the San Francisco law and is designed to pass legal tests.
Last month, the council gave preliminary approval to the measure, which will apply to any business receiving a city contract worth at least $300,000 or to any project that gets at least $5 million in city assistance. It will require that 51 percent of the company's new jobs go to city residents.
Businesses that do not comply could be barred from receiving city contracts for a year and face a $500 fine. The bill makes exceptions for businesses that make a "good faith" effort to hire locally.
The city's Law Department challenged the legislation, calling it unconstitutional. Some businesses, including Baltimore-based utility contractor Ligon & Ligon Inc., objected to what they described as a burdensome requirement.
As amended recently, Young's bill will not take effect for six months. Young said he and Rawlings-Blake met to discuss the legislation, and he offered the six-month grace period as a compromise.
The Law Department said in a letter to council members that enacting hiring preferences based on residence would put the city in a "legally indefensible" position and violate the Constitution's privileges and immunities clause, which bars one state from discriminating against the residents of another. City Solicitor George Nilson has said that if the bill becomes law, he expects the city would lose any lawsuits filed against it.
In a related item, Young introduced legislation Monday to seek a charter amendment allowing the City Council to hire its own independent legal counsel. He said the move is necessary so the body won't have to rely on the city solicitor, who reports to the mayor.
"I'm trying to let the voters of the city decide whether the council should be able to hire an independent counsel," he said.
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