PHOENIX - Voters will decide this year if they want to outlaw affirmative-action programs and any special programs or preferences for women and minorities.

Proposition 107 would prohibit preferential treatment or discrimination by government on the basis of race, sex or ethnic origin. It would specifically apply to employment, education and contracting.

But what the effects would be if it's approved are less than clear.

Proponents say that the language simply reflects the goals of a colorblind society.

In fact, state Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, who sponsored the measure to amend the Arizona Constitution, has invoked the verbiage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

King said he looked forward to the day when "little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

But critics say that minorities have yet to achieve full equality in society, and certain programs remain necessary.

The state itself has no quotas. Federal courts have outlawed numerical quotas that spell out a certain percentage of school admissions, jobs or contracts must go to minorities or women.

Yet judges have upheld affirmative-action programs designed to help groups that have been underrepresented.

And the courts also have allowed certain bid preferences if the government can show minorities or women are not getting a share of contracts.

That exception is at the heart of a provision of the Tucson City Code, which provides eligible firms of minorities that have not received their fair share of contracts with an "adjustment," allowing them to bid up to 7 percent more on product or service contracts and still win. And there are procedures to give bonus points to certain firms bidding on professional services.

Less clear are some other types of programs.

For example, both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona have a Women in Science and Engineering program that encourages female students to go into those fields, where they have been underrepresented.

Montenegro said affirmative-action programs, which were started as an attempt to prohibit discrimination, now actually promote it. He said the measure, if approved, would truly create a level playing field, at least in government programs.

The measure contains an exception for any action necessary to maintain eligibility for any federal program if doing otherwise would result in a loss of federal money to the state.

It also would not apply to any court orders or consent decrees in force, if and when the measure is enacted.

This will be the first time Arizonans get to vote on the issue. A similar initiative drive in 2008 failed when backers did not get enough signatures.

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