A bill to expand and improve employment opportunities for people who are blind, and for other purposes.
Introduced by -----,
Sec. 1. This Act may be cited as the “Blind Business Development and Employment Act of 2006.”
FINDINGS AND PURPOSES
Sec. 2. The Congress finds that:
(1) there are 1,300,000 blind Americans and there is a greater incidence of unemployment among people of working age who are blind than among any other group or segment of society; the means exist for addressing this severe, chronic problem; and legislation should be developed for this purpose;
(2) the Randolph-Sheppard blind vending facility program, enacted in 1936 and most recently amended in 1974, has not provided employment opportunities for blind individuals to the extent Congress intended, and obstacles in the path of expanded employment and entrepreneurship among the blind finally must be removed;
(3) the blind vending facility program has not received programmatic or administrative support from the Department of Education to the extent it should have, and many Federal departments, agencies, and instrumentalities have ignored the priority conferred on blind persons by the Randolph-Sheppard Act; and
(4) innovative and forward-looking approaches to providing business and employment opportunities to blind people can and must be devised, and the creation of such approaches can be stimulated in part through enactment and implementation of Federal legislation.
BLIND BUSINESS AND EMPLOYMENT AGENCY
(a) There is established within the Department of Commerce the Blind Business and Employment Agency headed by a Director, whose position shall be rated as a GS-18 in the Civil Service, or in the Senior Executive Service, pursuant to 5 U. S. C. § ____. Such Agency shall include a Business Enterprise Branch; an Entrepreneurial Development Branch; and an Employment Enterprise Branch. The Director and the Agency shall be responsible for
(1) developing regulations and policies for the administration and management of the blind vending facility program under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U. S. C. §§107-107f.;
(2) enforcing the priority granted blind persons under such Act;
(3) advocating for blind businesses, entrepreneurship, and employment of blind persons;
(4) establishing and maintaining national standards for training of blind vendors, determining whether portability of licenses across state lines is feasible, and supporting training for State licensing agency personnel under such Act;
(5) providing technical assistance to State licensing agencies and Qualified Blind Employment Enterprises;
(6) establishing, promoting, and administering programs to enable the expansion and growth of employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for blind persons, including business ownership in the private sector;
(7) developing program reporting and accountability standards in all activities of the Agency whenever such standards are appropriate;
(8) submitting to the Secretary and to Congress annual reports on outcomes and achievements resulting from the implementation of the programs and policies required under this Act; and
(9) developing concepts, policies, and plans to accomplish the purposes of the Agency and of this Act.
(1) The Business Enterprise Branch shall be responsible for national administration and management of the blind vending facility program operated pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard Act and its regulations at 34 C. F. R. Part 395, and transferred by this Act from the Department of Education. Such Branch shall also participate, as required by the Director, in the development and creation of additional opportunities for the employment of blind persons under the Qualified Blind Business Enterprises and Qualified Blind Employment Enterprises programs described in subsections (c) and (d) of this section.
(2) Each solicitation for contracts that is (A) determined by the Director to be subject to the priority accorded blind persons under section 107 of the Randolph-Sheppard Act and is (B) funded by federally appropriated funds for the purpose of purchasing meals for Federal employees issued by any Federal department, agency, or instrumentality, shall provide that at least one-third of the full time and part-time employees working under such contract shall be blind individuals or individuals with other physical or mental disabilities that constitute or result in substantial impediment to employment.
(3) Each blind vendor assigned to manage a contract described in paragraph (2) of this subsection shall adhere to the contract requirements set forth in such paragraph. In order to meet such requirement the blind vendor may at the vendor’s discretion
(A) execute a subcontract with a qualified vendor under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, 41 U. S. C. §48;
(B) execute a subcontract with a Qualified Blind Business Enterprise as described in subsection (c) of this section; or
(C) become a Qualified Blind Business Enterprise, subject to the criteria set forth in subsection (c) of this section.
(4) In the event a State licensing agency is unable to, or declines to, operate a blind vending facility within the State over which such agency has jurisdiction that is subject to a permit or a contract under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the priority accorded blind persons under section 107 of the Act may be exercised by a Qualified Blind Business Enterprise. A QBBE that chooses to exercise the priority may apply for a loan or loan guarantee pursuant to subsection (c)(2) of this section.
(1) The Entrepreneurial Development Branch shall develop and implement a national Qualified Blind Business Enterprise (QBBE) certification program, and shall be responsible for certifying all Qualified Blind Business Enterprises. The QBBE certification shall include, but not be limited to, criteria to be met by any business requesting such certification, as follows:
(A) Management criteria requiring that the majority ownership interest in a QBBE must be held by one or more individuals who are blind, and that the principal manager of the work to be performed under a QBBE contract must have served successfully as a licensed blind vendor under the Randolph-Sheppard Act for a minimum of five years or be certified by the Entrepreneurial Development Branch as possessing comparable training and experience.
(B) Workforce participation criteria that require (i) at least one-third of the full time and part time employees (including management employees) to be individuals who are blind, or individuals with other physical or mental impairments that constitute or result in a substantial impediment to employment, (ii) the percentage of total annual compensation paid to blind and disabled employees (including management employees) is at least equivalent to the percentage of employment positions held by such individuals working for the QBBE, (iii) all benefits provided to employees must be identical for all employees without regard to blindness or disability, (iv) wages paid for full time and part time employment shall not be less than the highest wage required under applicable state or Federal laws, and in no event shall be less than the Federal minimum wage, and (v) each QBBE shall accept the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board regarding the collective bargaining rights of its employees.
(2) To assist QBBEs in obtaining capital for operations, equipment, and other necessary business costs and expenses in operating Federal contracts or business opportunities in the private sector, the Entrepreneurial Development Branch shall develop, establish, and administer a program of loans and loan guarantees. Certified QBBEs may apply for loans and loan guarantees in accordance with criteria developed by the Branch.
(3) The Entrepreneurial Development Branch shall develop strategic partnerships with private sector entities, including franchise food service or other franchise operations that will lead to business opportunities for blind entrepreneurs on Federal, state, or private property. QBBEs may apply for loans and loan guarantees to operate businesses and vending facilities in addition to those on Federal property. The Branch shall also be responsible for providing training and technical assistance to QBBEs in order to strengthen the blind vending facility program under the Randolph-Sheppard Act and to increase the number, variety, and quality of business and employment opportunities for blind persons.
(1) The Employment Enterprise Branch shall develop, establish, and maintain a program to certify businesses as Qualified Blind Employment Enterprises (QBEE). A QBEE may be a for-profit or a not for profit entity organized under the laws of any State or territory of the United States, or of the District of Columbia.
(2) Criteria for certification of a QBEE developed by the Employment Enterprise Branch shall at a minimum include the following: (A) at least one-third of the enterprise’s full-time and part-time employees (including management employees) shall be blind; (B) the percentage of the total annual compensation paid to blind employees (including management employees) shall be at least equivalent to the percentage of the employment positions held by such blind employees working for the enterprise; (C) benefits provided shall be identical for all employees without regard to blindness or other disability; (D) wages paid for full-time and part-time employment shall be not less than the highest wage required under applicable state or Federal law, and in no event shall be less than the Federal minimum wage; and (E) the enterprise shall accept jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board regarding the collective bargaining rights of its employees.
TRANSFER OF FUNCTIONS AND STAFF
All functions and staff affecting or relating to the Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U. S. C. §§107-107f., located within the Department of Education on the effective date of this Act shall be transferred within 90 days of such date to the Department of Commerce, as well as all files and documents related thereto and related salaries and expenses for such functions and staff, including the cost of arbitrations under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. The Secretary of Commerce shall ensure that staffing for the Business Enterprise Branch of the Blind Business and Employment Agency shall number at least thirteen full-time equivalent positions at all times, and that staffing for the remainder of the Agency shall be sufficient to satisfactorily carry out the purposes and functions of this Act.
PREFERENCE FOR CERTAIN CONTRACTORS
Effective one year after the date of enactment of this Act, any Federal contract proposal that includes provisions for subcontracting with a licensed blind vendor under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, or with a Qualified Blind Business Enterprise or Qualified Blind Employment Enterprise under this Act, shall receive a preference for a new, extended, revised, or re-competed contract in accordance with regulations published by the Secretary.
(a) Any provision of the Randolph-Sheppard Act that is in conflict with, or inconsistent with, this Act, shall be interpreted to remove such conflict or inconsistency.
(b) Any references in the Randolph-Sheppard Act to “Secretary” shall upon the effective date of this Act mean the Secretary of Commerce. Any references in such Act to “Commissioner” shall upon the effective date of this Act be deemed to mean the Director of the Blind Business and Employment Agency. Any references in such Act to “Rehabilitation Services Administration” shall upon the effective date of this Act be deemed to mean the Blind Business and Employment Agency. The authority of the Commissioner of Rehabilitation Services under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, 20 U. S. C. §§107(b), 107a, 107d-3 is transferred to the Director of the Blind Business and Employment Agency on the effective date of this Act.
AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS
(a) For the purpose of maintaining, administering, and operating the Blind Business and Employment Agency there is authorized to be appropriated $ _______________ for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, and such sums as may be necessary for the subsequent four fiscal years.
(b) For the purpose of making grants, loans, and loan guarantees under this Act, there is authorized to be appropriated $ __________________ for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2006, and such sums as may be necessary for the subsequent four fiscal years.
(1) “Blind vendor” means an individual licensed by a State licensing agency under the Randolph-Sheppard Act.
(2) “Blind person” means an individual whose disabling condition is set forth in 20 U. S. C. §107e(1).
(3) “Director” means the Director of the Blind Business and Employment Agency. (4) “Secretary” means the Secretary of Commerce.
Sec. 107. Within 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Acquisition Regulations and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations shall be amended to incorporate the provisions of this Act relating to permits and contracts with State licensing agencies under the Randolph-Sheppard Act, and contracts with Qualified Blind Business Enterprises under this Act.
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