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WIPP National Partner Denise Farris Testimony to the MO State Office of Administration Funding

Tuesday, December 8, 2009  
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Testimony by Denise Farris, Farris Law Firm LLC

on behalf of Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) and

National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) KC Chapter

RE:     State of Missouri  December 7, 2009

Office of Administration Funding to Update 1997 Disparity Study

Good afternoon, Chair Nodler and Vicechair Mayer, and Members of the Committee. My name is Denise Farris.  I am the owner of the Farris Law Firm LLC, a Kansas City certified woman owned business practicing commercial construction law. I appear today for WIPP (Women Impacting Public Policy), and NAWBO (the National Association of  Women Business Owners, Kansas City Chapter).

As part of my responsibilities at the local and national level, I track and publish on the legal status of affirmative action programs nationwide.  The majority of programs challenged result from outdated disparity studies deemed "statistically unreliable”.    

Missouri’s reliance on a thirteen year old study makes this program a sitting duck for constitutional challenge. This should be viewed as a legal and economic crisis justifying immediate appropriation of funding for a new study, where any interruption to the program impacts not only minority and women business owners but also Missouri’s economic development during recession. Small business is the safety net during a recession, where small business can react quickly, hire corporate layoffs, and keep goods and service purchases flowing.

A legal challenge is also time consuming and expensive, typically covering a six year period: two years for the initial litigation, two years for appeal, and two years to conclude and implement a new disparity study and program. Missouri can’t afford this type of small business interruption.

We urge the State to immediately fund and begin this new study.

We also ask that the following measures be considered at the same time:

1.      Coordinate data collection with the Secretary of State office by amendment of the Annual Report forms to add the following three questions:

a.              "Is your company 51% or more owned and controlled by a minority? If so please identify the minority or ethnic background.”

b.             "Is your company 51% or more owned and controlled by a woman?  If so, please identify the minority or ethnic background, if applicable?

       c.      "Is your company currently certified and if so, by what entity? List all: _______________________________________________________”

This  low-cost change to an existing process enables the State to: (a) identify more comprehensive "availability”; (b) expand State outreach to qualified companies who are eligible but have never certified; (c) create a more comprehensive database for future disparity updates; and (d) provide the Missouri legislature with diversity constituent statistics by district.

2.       Coordinate support of the Disparity Study by recognized Minority and Women Business Groups in Missouri, implementing confidentiality protection measures.

          Future disparity studies need to better coordinate with Missouri’s existing minority and women business organizations, and MUST include a confidentiality protocol for respondents.  By working with existing organizations, potential respondents will have advance notice of the study and who will be conducting it versus a cold call or email from an unknown company.  The organizations can assist in gathering confidential anecdotal information while protecting the identity of the respondent. 

We recommend anecdotal interviews be scheduled by each organization; assigning the respondent a number. The number can be used independently to track the data provider but would be anonymous to third parties. The data provider could then accurately report instances of past discrimination without fear of contract blackballing. Their identity would be protected unless required to disclose through either court order or a defined administrative process based on  "need to know” evidence.

3.        The affirmative action program should exist with a corresponding Small Business Program.

            The State’s affirmative action program should also include a race and gender neutral "small business set-aside” program. This allows the state to identify a percent of annual procurement limited for small business competition only. This race/gender neutral element is legally required by Supreme Court precedent. It also provides minority and women businesses opportunity to participate in government procurement even when an affirmative action program is under legal challenge, where they also qualify as "small”.  Samples of this type of legislation is readily available through the Illinois M/W/DBE and Small Business Contracting Acts.

Thank you for your time.  On behalf of WIPP and NAWBO-KC, as well as the other organizations which with I interact, if we can be of assistance in any regard please let us know.

                                                            Denise E. Farris

Farris Law Firm LLC

                                                                        1600 Genessee, Suite 433

                                                                        Kansas City, MO  64102

                                                                        (816) 842-0800


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