Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maryland county approves giving preference to disabled job seekers

From The Washington Examiner:

The Montgomery County Council in Maryland gave unanimous approval Nov. 24 to giving preference to disabled job seekers over similarly skilled people who aren't disabled.

Council members said they were "stepping up to implement some of the most progressive policies in the nation" in response to the high unemployment rate among the county's disabled. About 10 percent of county residents identify themselves as disabled, while only 54 percent of them are employed, according to a 2006 survey.

"It's a staggering waste of human talent," said Council President Phil Andrews.

The County Council voted to establish a "hiring preference" to disabled people who go through the county's traditional job application process. The council's attorney is now drafting a formal bill that is set to be introduced next week and is expected to pass soon.

Disability-rights advocates praised the council for supporting a change in policy, and pointed out that more than 40 percent of the county's disabled live in poverty.

"We need these initiatives," said Mark Maxin, chairman of the county's Commission on People with Disabilities.

In addition to implementing a hiring preference during the typically competitive hiring process, some County Council members voiced their approval for giving county managers the ability to bypass the typical hiring process altogether to hire a qualified disabled candidates.

Giving managers that power would require that county voters approve a change to the county's charter. The county considered a similar proposal in 1994 but dropped the idea after the county attorney said it would require an amendment to the county's charter, according to a county report.

The County Council referred the matter to the county's Charter Review Commission on Tuesday.

No one spoke out Nov. 24 at the council meeting against the proposals. But, Betsy Luecking, a county disability policy specialist, told The Examiner in October that the disabled community is split over whether they need advantages in the hiring process.

"I would think most people would prefer to think that they were hired because they were the most qualified person," Luecking said.