The Tennessee legislature is attempting to ban minority contracts, MET programs
the NAACP Memphis Branch Opposes a bill that would outlaw minority contracting programs in state and local governments, school boards, public universities and similar government organizations statewide.
Opponents of the bill gathered at the Memphis NAACP office for a news conference Friday.
“So we’re in a position now where Black and women-owned companies are still fighting to get their fair share of the pie, and they haven’t gotten it, even with the laws in place,” Van Turner said. President of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP and Shelby County Commissioner.
“And if you abolish the law now, you really take us back three decades.”
State Assemblyman Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, chairs the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators.
He pointed a study by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations which concluded that between 2016 and 2020, black businesses received only about 3.3% of government procurement contract funds.
This is actually an increase from the percentage a few years ago: in 2003-2007, for example, it was only 0.4%.
Parkinson said that in a black-majority city like Memphis, blacks pay taxes but don’t get many government contracts. “It means these taxpayers don’t have a fair chance to get a share of the taxpayers’ money in some of these contracts.”
He also argued that minority contracting programs help improve the lives of business owners for generations and bring broader benefits to society.
“Because these black companies will hire the people that other companies won’t hire,” he said. For example, a black company could hire someone with a felony conviction, he said, and give the person an opportunity to avoid a return to criminal activity.
“If someone has a decent quality of life, they’re not going to kick in your back door.”
Both the House and Senate versions of the bill are scheduled for Tuesday’s committee hearing, according to online records.
One of the main sponsors of the bill is State Senator Mike Bell, a Republican representing a mostly rural area in East Tennessee. Bell’s office did not immediately respond to a call Friday afternoon.
In recent years there have been many examples of conflict between Memphis, a Democratic, majority-black city, and the Republican supermajority in the Tennessee legislature, which represents mostly rural, mostly white communities.
With the Democrats outvoted, Parkinson hoped opponents would gain support for their position from big business groups.
The Shelby County conflict illustrates the struggle over minority contract programs
The situation also reflects years of conflict in Memphis and across the country over the practice of awarding a certain percentage of government contracts to minority-owned companies.
The 1989 US Supreme Court ruling in City of Richmond v. JA Croson Co. argued that a city’s constitution does not allow for requiring general contractors to outsource a certain percentage of the work to minority-owned companies.
Several subsequent court cases led to the practice of disparity studies: consultants study differences in which groups received government contracts. Depending on the results of the disparity study, a city’s minority business program may pass the statutory screening.
The Memphis area has seen several struggles over disparity studies and minority contracting programs.
To cite just one example, in 2020, the Shelby County government voted to pay $332,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a group of contractors who claimed the county’s minority business program broke White-owned businesses discriminated against. The settlement also forced changes in the way the county awards contracts. The county dropped its minority- and women-led business program and replaced it with a similar program that did not focus on race and gender.
But the minority- and women-owned business program is likely to make a comeback in the future after a new inequality study examining who gets government contracts today concludes.
The study was originally scheduled to be completed in 2021. However, the timeframe has been extended and the study is ongoing.
The text of the draft law states that discrimination or preferential treatment is not allowed
The core language of the proposed legislation is as follows:
“The state shall not discriminate against or favor any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the exercise of any aspect of public employment, public education or public contracting.”
The language of the bill makes it clear that this bill would apply not only to the Tennessee government, but also to political subdivisions such as cities and counties, as well as to public higher education, the public school system, charter schools, and any other organization that derives from it his authority from the State of Tennessee.
FULL INVOICE:Click here to read the full text of the law.
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The Senate bill is SB 2440. The House version is HB 2569.
Reporter Katherine Burgess contributed to this article.
Investigative reporter Daniel Connolly welcomes leads and comments from the public. Reach him at 529-5296, [email protected]or on Twitter at @danielconnolly.