The Prince George’s County Council’s government operations and fiscal policy committee discussed a bill Thursday that would allocate funds toward supporting Black-owned local businesses.

The legislation would define and add “African American Business Enterprises” to the Prince George’s County Business Expansion and Start-Up Grant Program. This grant program aims to increase industry commerce and support small businesses, according to the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation.

A quarter of the grant program’s funding — a one-time appropriation of $50 million — will support Black-owned businesses. The funding will also seek to prioritize small businesses inside the Beltway, District 7 council member Krystal Oriadha said. But legislation may face constitutional challenges due its race-conscious preferences, according to the Prince George’s County law office.

Oriadha drafted the legislation last year after she noticed her constituents’ frustration with the lack of support and resources from the county, she told The Diamondback. She hopes the grant program “tangibly” impacts Black-owned businesses.

“We have an opportunity here in Prince George’s County, based on the demographics of our community and the leadership that sits on this body and in the administration, to be the leaders and to be willing to fight for what we believe is right,” Oriadha said.

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During Thursday’s meeting, Oriadha described a county disparity study that found more significant and frequent disparities for Black-owned businesses in accessing funding than any other racial category. Her bill aims to address this issue, she said.

But the effort could face legal challenges, deputy county attorney Sean Dixon said during the meeting. The bill would amend a race-neutral requirement currently in the county’s grant program law, Dixon said.

The Supreme Court held that race-conscious legislation was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause when they struck down affirmative action last summer. The law office voiced concerns that the high level of scrutiny the Supreme Court used would impact the proposed Black business funds, Dixon said.

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The county could be at risk of paying substantial amounts of money defending the legislation, according to Dixon. He urged council members to think deeply before voting to adjust the program.

“If challenged, we do not expect [the legislation] to survive the challenge,” Dixon said.

District 9 council member Sydney Harrison expressed his concern about the sum of money the council could spend on the legislation’s potential judicial fees. If the county didn’t have to worry about these legal fees, more money could go toward supporting local businesses, he said.

At large council member Mel Franklin said he expected these warnings from the law office. Still, he urged the council to work in favor of the legislation for the good that it could do for the community.

“Call it a protest. Call it what you will. I think we should continue to press on the issue of Black-owned businesses,” Franklin said. “We as a county could do a better job than we’re doing today.”

The council held the bill for further discussion on Thursday. It will be brought up again in a later committee meeting.