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Memphis minority leaders oppose state government contracting bill

Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 4:55 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A bill in the Tennessee General Assembly, if passed, would eliminate the use of disparity studies and minority and/or women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) programs for when state government awards contracts.

Memphis’s minority community says Senate Bill 2440 would send the state back decades in the path for racial equality.

The bill’s intent is to update current state code, reading in part “...The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, an individual or group based on the individual’s or group’s race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of any aspect of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Representative John Ragan introduced the sister bill in a House Committee last Wednesday.

“It makes it clear that discrimination against individuals and those protected classes is prohibited, which is already there, but it goes further and makes sure that they understand that preference is also a form of discrimination and is not allowed,” Ragan said before the state House Public Service Committee.

Friday, Memphis leaders gathered at NAACP Memphis headquarters voicing their opposition.

“The state of Tennessee should be about businesses being able to come to the state and operate as they see fit and being able to make sure that everyone is included,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson.

Parkinson sited a January 2022 study from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) that showed from 2016-2020, black businesses made up only 3% of the total state procurement spending.

“That is with these laws in place,” said Alandas Dobbins, Owner of Oteka Technologies LLC in Whitehaven. “My goodness! Without those laws, I can’t imagine what business African Americans and women would have.”

“There are so many filtering mechanisms that keep us at that number,” Parkinson said.

Mechanisms disqualifying minority-owned businesses like capacity and liquidity to take on large projects are what Parkinson is referring to.

They say that capacity comes from opportunity.

“That puts money in your bank,” said Stephanie Alexander, Executive Director of Memphis Area Minority Contractors. “That allows you to hire other employees, and as you continue to build then your company will become more sought after.”

Parkinson said should the bill become law, he and others will look to take the issue to court.

The bill goes before the Senate’s Local and State Government Committee on Wednesday.

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