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Baltimore City Council committee approves local hiring mandate

After a 15-minute work session, a proposal to establish a local hiring mandate was passed Tuesday by the Baltimore City Council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee.

Left to right, Jermaine Jones, business manager of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 710, speaks on the local hiring mandate approved by a City Council committee, as Councilmen Carl Stokes, Edward Reisinger and Bill Henry listen in the background.

The bill will now be considered by the full City Council at its next meeting, on Monday.

It must then be reviewed for final passage at the following council meeting before it goes before Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for approval.

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who introduced the bill in November, praised the committee for passing the measure.

“The committee’s vote represents a progressive first step toward improving resident participation in city-funded projects,” Young said Tuesday. “There has been a failure of good-faith hiring efforts in Baltimore city. We must do more to get our unemployed and underemployed residents working again, and this bill’s successful passage is a step forward.”

But Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson’s office has consistently stated that the proposed mandate is unconstitutional.

Nilson said the goals of the proposed bill, under which any person or entity who “has a contract with the city for more than $300,000” or “will benefit from more than $5 million in assistance for a city subsidized project” would have to ensure that at least 51 percent of the jobs required for a project be filled by residents of the city, could be accomplished “on an administrative basis” rather than through legislation.

In order for the preference to survive a legal challenge, Nilson’s office also said, the city must prove that nonresidents are the cause of local unemployment.

“[This is] a test that no city to date has passed,” Nilson said in a memo issued last Thursday. “Since the goal of lessening unemployment can be achieved without discriminating against nonresidents, courts strike down local preference laws almost uniformly.”

The only way for the proposed law to survive a constitutional challenge, the memo states, would be for the city to commission a study to provide statistical proof that city residents who are unemployed are jobless “because and only because” nonresidents are filling available jobs.

“The study must rule out other factors of unemployment like lack of education and lack of job skills,” the city solicitor said in his memo. “Only then would a court find that the law passes the constitutional test. This study would be expensive, with little likelihood of success.”

Young, however, remained optimistic that the city could survive a legal challenge.

“Baltimore city should not be left behind,” he said at the work session. “We have to be bold. We have to be creative. Don’t tell me we can’t do it.”

Nilson said in a telephone interview Tuesday that passing such a law would just result in the city’s getting entangled in litigation.

“The litigation will be a mess,” he said. “We will ultimately lose, and it will cost us time and money to litigate.”

He also said the mayor “is not in the habit of signing unconstitutional litigation.”

Ryan O’Doherty, a spokesman for the mayor, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. He has previously stated, however, that the mayor “defers to the Law Department on the serious legal issues related to the proposed bill.”

Nilson noted that a hearing on the proposed legislation was held in January and expressed dismay that it took the committee four months to schedule the work session. He also expressed frustration with the brevity of the ensuing session and the fact that no changes were made to the proposed law.

“With all due respect to the advocates of the cause, that is not engaging in serious legislative work,” he said.

A representative of Laborers’ International Union of North America echoed Nilson’s sentiments.

“The whole point of the work session was to make changes,” Jermaine Jones, the business manager of Local 710 of LIUNA, said in an interview after the hearing Tuesday. “The fact that no changes were made doesn’t make sense.”

Jones said his organization is in favor of passing a local a local hiring bill, but said the law in its current state has “too many loopholes.”

Baltimore is hardly the first city to attempt to pass a local hiring law. Cities like Quincy, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; and Jersey City, N.J., have put forward local hiring laws only to have them struck down by federal judges who said the law violated the Constitution — the “privileges and immunities” clause of Article IV.

However, a number of other cities, including Washington and San Francisco, have passed legislation that is similar to what is being proposed in Baltimore.