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A measure sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and designed to ensure that women- and minority-owned businesses in New Jersey have access to the same opportunities as other businesses was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

“This bill is intended to ensure that the opportunities guaranteed by federal and state law are available equally to minority-owned and women-owned businesses in New Jersey,” said Quijano (D-Union). “This will help ensure that all those who are deserving have access to the same economic opportunities afforded by the state, not just the politically connected.”

The bill (A-3741) would establish a Division of Minority and Women Business Development, to be headed by a State Chief Disparity Officer within the Department of the Treasury. The division would administer and monitor policies, practices and programs that further the state’s efforts to ensure equal opportunity for minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises when it comes to purchasing and procurement by state departments and agencies, including independent state authorities.

The State Chief Disparity Officer would monitor the state’s public contracting process for the purpose of compiling information on the awarding of contracts to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises, including the total value of all contracts and the percentage of the value of those contracts awarded to minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises.

“By regularly compiling hard data concerning the number of women and minority businesses contracting for projects in New Jersey, we will be better positioned to verify that these businesses are adequately represented in state contracting. The availability of this type of information also plays an integral part in judicial scrutiny of affirmative action measures,” added Quijano.

The bill would also direct each sate department and agency, including independent state authorities, to designate a disparity officer to act as a liaison with the State Chief Disparity Officer. The officer would periodically report their findings to the Governor and the Legislature.

The measure is based in part on legislation recently enacted in New York State, and codifies into law the creation of the Division of Minority and Women Business Development, which was enacted by executive order in 2006.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee by a vote of 4-1 and now heads to the full Assembly.