ROCKVILLE, Md., August 30, 2012—Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews on Aug. 29 testified before the Ballot Questions Advisory Committee of the County’s Democratic, Party, strongly endorsing a proposed amendment to the County Charter that would enable the County to create a program within the County Government merit system to expand hiring of qualified persons with severe disabilities. After Councilmember Andrews and others spoke on “Ballot Question A,” the advisory committee overwhelmingly endorsed passage of the proposal.
The advisory committee’s endorsement will be relayed to approximately 400 key members of the party. On Sept. 19, those members are scheduled to vote on this issue, and others, in regard to endorsements on a sample ballot that will be distributed to the public. The issues will be on the ballot for voters to decide in November.
In his testimony, Councilmember Andrews said, “Adoption of this Charter amendment, enabling the Council to subsequently enact the appropriate implementing legislation, is essential for the County to do everything feasible to be a model employer of persons with disabilities.”
The complete text of the testimony of Councilmember Andrews:
I appreciate the opportunity to testify this evening in favor of County Question A—an amendment to the County Charter that I proposed in June and that the Council unanimously voted to place on the ballot last month. If approved by the voters, this Charter amendment would enable the County to establish a program within the County merit system to recruit, select, and hire qualified persons with severe physical or mental disabilities that substantially limit one or more major life activities.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities by any and all measures far exceeds the general unemployment rate. In order to help reduce the high unemployment and underemployment rate for people with disabilities, Montgomery County Government has taken a number of important steps to expand opportunities and be a model employer.
In 2010, the County Council approved legislation that I sponsored to provide a hiring preference to veterans and to people with disabilities who are applying for an initial position in County Government and are among the highest rated group of applicants. This measure expanded employment opportunities in County Government primarily for people with significant non-cognitive disabilities. Prior to that, the County established a Customized Employment Public Intern Project in our Health and Human Services Department that provides opportunities for people with significant cognitive and development disabilities. However, the internships cannot last for more than two years because of the inflexibility of the current merit system. For the same reason, County Government is unable—unlike the Federal Government under its Schedule A (Special Hiring Authority) system—to hire qualified people with severe disabilities directly into certain positions.
In June 2008, the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight, in its comprehensive report titled “Hiring Persons with Disabilities: A Review of County Government Practices,” offered four recommendations. The County has implemented the first three. The fourth recommendation was for “the Council (to) explicitly discuss and decide whether to pursue a Charter amendment to enable the County Government to establish a special hiring authority within the merit system for hiring persons with disabilities.”
The very high unemployment and underemployment rate of people with disabilities is both an important and urgent concern. The County’s advisory Commission on People with Disabilities strongly supports this Charter Amendment, as does County Executive Leggett. All 20 speakers who testified at the Council's public hearing in July on potential Charter Amendments, which included representatives of organizations that work with people with disabilities such as the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, ARC and Community Support Services as well as a number of individuals with severe disabilities, strongly supported this Charter Amendment.
Adoption of this Charter Amendment, enabling the Council to subsequently enact the appropriate implementing legislation, is essential for the County to do everything feasible to be a model employer of persons with disabilities. On behalf of the entire County Council, I urge the Ballot Questions Advisory Committee to recommend that the Montgomery County Democratic Party endorse County Question A in the upcoming General Election.
Thank you for your consideration.