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Divided House panel approves minority contracting proposal

By WILLIAM YARDLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- A House committee divided on party lines approved on Tuesday Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to overhaul affirmative action in state contracting, despite one lawmaker who begged to delay the vote.

The House Business Development and International Trade Committee, chaired by the only black Republican in the state Legislature, voted 6-3 to pass a proposed bill that would strengthen anti-discrimination laws and revamp the way the state contracts with minority businesses.

Democratic Rep. Tony Hill of Jacksonville, who participated in a sit-in at the governor's offices in January to protest Bush's One Florida plan, urged the committee to delay the vote until it had received more public input.

"How can we help people when we don't talk to the people we're trying to help?" Hill asked Chairman Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg. "I'm begging you, Mr. Chairman."

Bradley, a Republican and one of a handful of black lawmakers who have supported One Florida, called for a vote. The three Democrats on the committee voted against the measure.

Hill and other Democrats worried that Republican House leaders siding with the governor will push the proposed bill directly to the House floor, bypassing any other committees. But a spokeswoman for House Speaker John Thrasher said that scenario was "highly unlikely."

The proposed contracting bill is considerably smaller in scope than the plan Bush announced in November.

The proposed bill would simplify the process by which minority businesses become certified with the state. It also would transfer the state minority business office from the Department of Labor and Employment Security to the Department of Management Services, which handles much of state contracting. The minority business office would be renamed the Office of Supplier Diversity.

Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami is sponsoring a corresponding bill in the Senate.

Much of the education portion of One Florida has been enacted and is already being challenged.

On Monday, the Florida branch of the National Organization for Women joined an NAACP challenge to One Florida, which ends race-based admission policies in state universities while guaranteeing admission to students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class. The NAACP has said the state Board of Regents, which governs state universities, did not have the authority to adopt the Bush plan.

NOW filed a motion to intervene in the suit on Monday, saying the plan will have an "adverse impact" on its "equal opportunity goals in general as well as ... (its) specific programs that are designed to improve educational opportunities for women."

An administrative judge is expected to rule Friday on whether the NAACP has standing to file the suit.

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