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Montgomery County's Question A Supports Hiring Disabled

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This is the first in a three-part series examining the ballot initiatives that will appear on Montgomery County voters' ballots on Election Day, Nov. 6.

Voters in Maryland will have several statewide referenda — including same-sex marriage and expanded gaming — to decide at the polls next month. But there are many local referenda as well, and three of them are in Montgomery County.

The first, known as Question A [PDF], deals with the hiring of the disabled in county government. The ballot question asks whether the county charter should be amended "to allow the County to operate within the merit system to recruit and select qualified individuals with severe physical or mental disabilities on a non-competitive basis." 

County Council member Phil Andrews, who pushed for this to be placed on the ballot, tries to put that in more basic language.

"It gives the county the ability to bring qualified people who have severe disabilities, including veterans returning from abroad, directly into certain county jobs," Andrews says. "We can't do that now. We have an intern program for people with severe disabilities, but after a certain period of time we have to let them go, even if they've been outstanding."

Even though there's no organized opposition to Question A, there are still plenty of concerns. Joyce Taylor is the executive director of The Arc Montgomery County, a group that aids the disabled.

"According to the 2010 census, 46 percent of individuals with disabilities are unemployed between the ages of 18 and 64," she says. 

The proposal would not place disabled candidates ahead of others, Taylor adds.

"For example, a lot of the reading and writing barriers in just filling out the application and taking certain tests and reaching a certain level or percentage to pass that test — they are not bypassing that system," she says. "This is just giving the immediate hiring supervisor the opportunity to look at the applicant or candidate in a different way."

Another concern is cost. Employers must make "reasonable accommodation" for disabled employees, such as transportation to and from the job if the worker needs it. Andrews points to the federal government, which has a similar hiring program in place, called Schedule A.

"Based on the federal government's experience, the cost is minimal. And assuming that we have fewer taxes needed for some of the services as a result of a higher employment among those with disabilities, it should be a net positive in terms of tax dollars," Andrews says.

The county cannot continue to push the private sector to hire more of the disabled if they do not do the same, Andrews adds.

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