A Maryland Senate committee has killed a bill that would have made some white males eligible for minority business preference by including them in the definition of socially disadvantaged.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee voted 10-1 Thursday to reject the measure that was intended to help non-minority males in economically stunted areas.

The bill made a "mockery" of the current law, said Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, chairman of the committee.

Supporters of the bill, which had passed the House by a 125-12 margin, said the committee vote means the issue is likely dead for this year. Maryland's General Assembly session ends Monday.

Under Maryland law, socially disadvantaged individuals are people who have been subject to racial, ethnic or cultural bias beyond their control.  Blount said the proposed change would have let "people in the majority use something meant for the minority."

The Minority Business Preference program should not be "watered down," Blount said. Federal programs already exist for people living in financially depressed areas.

Besides, he said, if a white male from Appalachia wants to move up, all he needs to do is "put his overalls aside and put on a suit."

"He'll be welcomed anywhere," he said, because of his "prized" place.

Minorities, Blount said, can't do that. "It's just the way life is."

White men already benefit from the program through its inclusion of white women, said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, at Thursday's hearing.

Distressed areas, Conway said, should not be addressed in this statute.

"It's the wrong bill. It sets the wrong precedent," she said.

But the bill's sponsor, Delegate Barry Glassman, R-Harford, said it was not about color. A new category was not being created by the bill, nor did it take away from existing minority categories, Glassman said.

"It just redefined socially disadvantaged," Glassman said, by taking into account geography, lack of access to credit and educational opportunities.

Because of the wide House support for the bill, Glassman said he believes the Senate committee just needs to be "enlightened" about the bill next year.

Co-sponsor Delegate Michael V. Dobson, D-Baltimore, agrees it is not a race issue. Technically, people who are socially and economically disadvantaged are a "minority," Dobson said, regardless of race.

Many members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus supported the bill, Dobson said. Keeping the groups together, he said, was a good way to monitor who got what.

Under the bill, consideration for government small business contracts would have been based on the individual, not just race. It would have included people who suffer socially because of long-term residence in areas isolated from society or from causes not common to those who are not socially disadvantaged.

The bill sprang out of a Board of Public Works report that recommended narrowly tailoring affirmative-action programs to use race-neutral measures to achieve minority contracting goals, basing eligibility on social and economic disadvantage instead.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.