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Affirmative action vote charts path to curb discrimination in Washington state contracting

Washington state’s impending voter ballot on affirmative action has given hope to marginalized business owners who’ve seen public contracting work dry up since affirmative action was banned in the state in 1998.

Passed earlier this year, the new affirmative-action law, Initiative 1000, seeks to increase diversity in public employment, contracting and other areas. The law will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Referendum 88.

If voters approve, the law would reintroduce diversity goals into bidding for public contracts.

By some estimates, small businesses owned by minorities and women have missed out on about $3.5 billion in government contracts since 1998. In each of the four years leading up to the ban, Washington state spent about 10 percent of their eligible goods, services and contracts with women- and minority-owned small businesses, according to a report by the state Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises. Fast forward to 2018 and those businesses were the recipients of only 3.6 percent of state spending on goods, services and contracts.

A disparity report released by the same office in July found “systemic and endemic inequalities in the ability of firms owned by minorities for women to have full and fair access to state contracts and associated subcontracts.”

“Absent some affirmative state measures, these inequities create disparate impacts on [minority- and women-owned businesses] and may render the state a passive participant in overall market-wide discrimination,” the report concluded.

Initiative 1000 aims to reverse these trends.

But there are no guarantees, as Former Washington Governor Gary Locke told an audience of mostly Asian Americans last month during a discussion of the law’s pros and cons.

The law would help with contracting by “giving you the opportunity,” he said, according to the Seattle Times. “We’re not guaranteeing that you get the government contract.”

If you believe you are the victim of public contracting discrimination, contact Emery Reddy. You won’t get better advice.

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