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Baltimore adopts local hiring preference

The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a local hiring mandate at its meeting Monday night, in spite of concerns raised by the city’s legal department over its constitutionality.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in an email after the meeting that the mayor will allow the mandate to take effect but will not explicitly sign it into law.

“Mayor Rawlings-Blake respects the will of the City Council and its good intentions on this piece of legislation and will allow it to become law,” the spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, said. “However, due to the significant concerns raised by the Law Department and job creators in the business community, she will not sign the bill.”

O’Doherty said the mayor “has instructed the Law Department to prepare for possible litigation related to this ordinance while city agencies work to comply with its provisions.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who sponsored the bill, said after Monday’s meeting that having such a law will ultimately help to lower the city’s high unemployment rate.

He said the passage of the bill represents “a renewed sense of hope for the countless families who continue to struggle to pay for basic necessities.”

Councilman Carl Stokes echoed those sentiments. He said that 20 percent of black males in Baltimore are unemployed, and 25 percent of the city’s citizens live in poverty.

City Solicitor George Nilson has said the legislation violates the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause, and that the goals of the 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.

“Since the goal of lessening unemployment can be achieved without discriminating against nonresidents, courts strike down local preference laws almost uniformly,” Nilson’s office said in a memo issued last month.

In order for the preference to survive a legal challenge, the city must provide statistical proof that city residents who are unemployed are jobless “because and only because” nonresidents are filling available jobs — not because of other factors, like “lack of education and lack of job skills,” the city solicitor said in his memo.

“[This is] a test that no city to date has passed,” the memo said.

Regional leaders have also warned that a local hiring preference bill could have unintended consequences: if it turns out to be legal, other municipalities and counties could follow suit and pass laws to give their own residents the edge over Baltimore residents.

In every single case in which a plaintiff has raised a Privileges and Immunities challenge in court to similar laws, Nilson said, the law has been overturned.

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

Stokes, however, said he wished Nilson “would stop inviting lawsuits” by publicly raising concerns about the law’s constitutionality.

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.

However, other cities, including Washington and San Francisco, presently have a similar law in place.

At Monday’s meeting, the City Council also introduced bills that would allow it to “retain the services of independent legal counsel.” Nilson is hired by the mayor.

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

Also Monday, the council:

— Introduced a bill to permanently repeal “certain provisions that require ticket sellers to be licensed.” In March, the council voted to temporarily repeal a 50-cent cap on ticket surcharges and also exempted licensed ticketing agencies, like Ticketmaster, from a scalping ban in the city. That March repeal — a response to a January Court of Appeals’ decision that found the 1949 cap was still valid — will be in effect until Sept. 1, by which time the council is expected to draft permanent legislation.

— Introduced a bill to authorize tax-increment financing for Harbor Point, the waterfront development that is slated to become the regional headquarters of Exelon Corp. As forwarded to the council by the city’s Board of Finance, the $107 million TIF would help pay for infrastructure and parks in the mixed-use development.