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Indiana Senate committee scales back minority-owned business measure

Lawmakers scale back minority certification bill

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Black and women business owners on Thursday told an Indiana Senate panel that cities must be free to set their own standards to certify minority business enterprises.

A bill written by Sen. Liz Brown, a Republican from Fort Wayne, originally would have forced all political subdivisions in the state to accept any certification of a minority business enterprise by the Indiana Department of Administration. Such a certification allows Black-, women- and veteran-owned businesses to access additional resources and get priority bidding on some contracts.

The city of Indianapolis uses a separate certification process from the rest of the state.

At the beginning of a Thursday morning hearing on the bill, a Senate committee rewrote the bill at Brown’s request, turning it into a measure directing lawmakers to study the issue and publish recommendations by the end of next year.

“We decided to collect data to see how many businesses are being classified in the respective cities and in the state, what that classification looks like, who receives it, and, quite frankly, who doesn’t receive it and why they don’t,” Brown said.

The change wasn’t enough to alleviate the concerns of several business owners who had assembled to testify on the original bill.

John Thompson, the chief executive officer of several companies including First Electric Supply and a member of the Indiana Economic Development Corp. board, said the Indianapolis city government’s certification process is one of the most effective in the entire country. He said new business formation has been a challenge for the state even without the additional barriers Black entrepreneurs face. Thompson said the legislature’s time would be better spent studying other issues.

Marshawn Wolley, chief executive officer of Black Onyx Management, echoed those concerns. He told News 8 afterward that both the city and the state already do regular disparity studies as part of the federal regulations and court rulings that govern minority business enterprise certifications. He said he feared the bill was part of an effort to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion programs under the guise of efficiency. Wolley said both legally and practically, such programs work best when individual cities are free to set their own criteria.

“What you really want with these narrowly-tailored programs is effectiveness,” he said. “We’re trying to eliminate disparities and, in order to do that, you have to be very thoughtful and narrowly tailored.”

Wolley said lawmakers would be better served simply waiting for the next round of disparity studies, which he said should be available next year, and reviewing them.