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Proposal made on minority contracts


A draft report by a commission appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. proposes that Maryland offer small contracts that target minority and small firms as a way to ensure that they have an opportunity to compete for state business.

Under the proposal, one of a series of recommendations in a draft report under review by Ehrlich, the state would offer a pilot program this year that would require agencies that contract for millions of dollars in goods and services each year to offer a minimum of two contracts suitable for small suppliers. At least one of the two contracts must be worth more than $5 million, according to the recommendation.

Arnold Jolivet, president of the American Minority Contractors and Businesses Association Inc., said the proposal is the No. 1 priority of minority and small businesses because it would give smaller companies an equal opportunity to compete for some of the state's contracts. The proposal would allow minority and small businesses to serve as the lead contractors on some state projects rather than as subcontractors.

"I think that would be a major plus," Jolivet said. "That would be the piece that would empower and enfranchise the minority community."

The proposal is one of dozens submitted to Ehrlich from his Commission for Minority Business Reform. The governor established the commission in June in response to an audit report by the Department of Legislative Services that showed that few state agencies are following Maryland's guidelines for minority business participation.

Although Maryland requires a 25 percent minority participation rate on state work, the regulation has not been enforced, the audit found.

In response, the commission offered a series of recommendations in a draft report obtained by The Sun, including:

Increased oversight of minority participation in state contracts by the Governor's Office of Minority Affairs.

A requirement that state agencies submit minority business participation procurement plans.

An online directory of Minority Business Enterprise firms to replace an outmoded online system run by the Maryland Department of Transportation.

It was not clear yesterday when the governor would release a final report. The commission had a mandate to study and make recommendations about minority business reform by the end of last year.

At a meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus yesterday, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, chairman of the commission, held up a document that he described to lawmakers as the final draft of the commission's report. But Steele gave no details of the report to lawmakers.

Steele told the caucus that the report would be released soon and that some of the legislators who serve on the commission would offer legislation related to the findings.

Henry Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman, said that the governor has not made final decisions in regard to the commission's findings and proposals, and that he does not have an "immediate timetable" for release of any data or recommendations.

Time is running out for introducing legislation for this session.

"We welcome any legislation that enhances the ability of minority contractors to be treated fairly," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "I would encourage Democratic delegates to put their own bills in and move on."

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