Paterson's signs MWBE bill, establishes accountability

Stephon Johnson | 4/12/2011, 5:31 p.m.

New York may be safe again for minority- and women-owned businesses.

Last Thursday, New York State Gov. David Paterson signed four pieces of legislation into law, including legislation that would level the playing field for minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE).

"Because of the legislation we will sign today, that won't happen on my watch or after my watch," said Paterson at the second floor art gallery space in the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building last Thursday. Each piece of legislation would fundamentally change how MWBEs work in the state.

"This is the next stage in the Civil Rights Movement," State Sen. Kevin Parker explained. "First, we were freed from slavery; second was our voting rights; the third step was access to public accommodations; and now we have the fourth step: economic abilities."

Bill No. 297 (S.8312/A.11525) would raise the cap of discrepancy purchases that a state agency can award to MWBEs from $100,000 to $200,000. It wouldn't be based on completely competitive procurements. How does this help? "[It] will open the doors since most MWBEs are small businesses," said Paterson.

"It's worth noting that I remember a group of whites meeting with me saying [they] wanted to be in the MWBE program. And I thought, now I have heard it all," said Paterson to uproarious laughter. "Since they were small businesses from upstate, they were not getting attention for the Empire State Development Corporation either. So this [bill] will not only provide opportunities to MWBEs, but for any small businesses that are really unable to receive an opportunities from the state."

Bill No. 298 (S.8313/A.11526) would expand the contracting practices of public authorities, which would create more opportunities for MWBEs. The bill would also require that procurement guidelines for every public authority would include at least one senior staff member to oversee each MWBE program to make sure guidelines are met.

Bill No. 299 (S.8312/A.11527) includes studies to measure the effectiveness of MWBE programs and the creation of a chief diversity officer position.

"Just like in a major corporation," said Paterson about the chief diversity officer position. "And they will be monitoring to make sure that they are compliant with this legislation. There will certainly be measures of responsibility that will be kneaded out to agencies who are found not to be in compliance."

The last bill, known as the Emerging Investment Managers Bill (S.6888/A.9976), deals with the comptroller, the New York State Insurance Fund and the Deferred Compensation Board (a.k.a., non-executive agencies that control large pools of money for investment). It will provide "emerging investment managers" with the ability to invest in MWBE financial institutions.

Before signing the bills into law, Paterson addressed the audience of dignitaries and businesspeople. "We will sign four pieces of legislation that will in effect, across the board, provide for equality in procurement all around the state," he said. "It will usher in a new era for minority- and women-owned businesses barred by institutional policies that were antithetical to fairness and equality."