Maryland veterans could receive preferential treatment when seeking employment, bill states
ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would allow employers to give preferential hiring and promotions to veterans and to spouses of a disabled or deceased service member, was heard in the Maryland Senate Finance committee Thursday after passing through the Maryland House 134-1 on Feb. 16.
The unemployment rate for Maryland veterans is 8.5 percent, more than 3 percentage points higher than the national rate for unemployed service members, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This bill would give Maryland’s 427,068 ex-military members literal bonus points when applying for a job or petitioning for a raise.
For Justin Fry, who “picks up work wherever,” it would be life-changing.
Fry, 26, served in the U.S. Navy for six years as an aviation support equipment technician and testified in favor of the Hiring and Promotion Preferences bill. The Maryland resident said that trying to support himself and his 8-year-old daughter, while his wife serves in California as part of the U.S. Coast Guard, is expensive and difficult.
“We’re not looking for entry-level jobs that would go to college students,” he said. “I could go work for Burger King, but that doesn’t really work with what I need and my standards.”
Fry met the bill’s sponsor, Del. William Smith (D-Montgomery) while interning at the General Assembly of Maryland. Fry said he meets unemployed veterans every day at Anne Arundel Community College’s Military and Veteran Center, where he works as a financial specialist.
“Veterans have a unique set of skills that do not correlate with the civilian world,” Fry said. “I would hope Maryland businesses would welcome this change.”
“I think that committee members are committed to the folks in uniform and want to make sure that they are not disadvantaged from their service,” Smith said.
Smith is both a Navy Reserves officer and a District of Columbia employment discrimination lawyer. He had heard from other reservists how difficult it is for veterans to find employment.
It is legal in 27 other states, including Virginia, for businesses to give veterans a preference in hiring, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
Many of Smith’s co-sponsors also have personal ties to the military, like Del. Richard Metzgar (R-Baltimore County) whose chief of staff is a master sergeant in the Army Reserve 77th Sustainment Brigade.
“Obviously I’m supporting all veterans,” Metzgar said Feb. 4. “I think it would be a great opportunity to put service members back to work, especially ones with disabilities.”
Metzgar, a co-sponsor, said he believes small businesses would be receptive because there is a “great respect for all military as well as our National Guard,” in Maryland. His chief of staff, Paul M. Blitz, travels two hours twice a month on weekends for reserve service in Fort Dix, New Jersey. He’s in favor of giving veterans — and the spouses of deceased and disabled service members — some sort of preferential bonus.
“These men and women are putting their lives on the line, so it would be nice to have the peace of mind to know that when I come back, I can pick up where my life left off,” Blitz said. “Even though the spouses do not put on uniforms. They too serve...they too make sacrifices.”
Without preferential treatment, said Del. David E. Vogt III (R-Carroll), disabled service members would be excluded from the workforce.
“It’s very difficult to receive employment because they are looked down upon,” Vogt said. “I’ve seen it happen.”
Vogt, a former Marine who said he’s suffered knee injuries and a concussion during active duty, said the bill not only complies with equal employment policies, but makes employers less discriminatory toward disabled vets.
“I’ve seen the challenges and faced it personally and it’s my responsibility to be able to help provide a solution to a problem that real- ly shouldn’t be,” he said. “There’s aspects of training that [military personnel] go through and they have leadership abilities that I notice a lot of private sector leaders want.”
Vogt said this bill may even help inspire more veterans to start their own businesses. There are 51,427 veteran-owned businesses in Maryland, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report.
The Maryland Senate voted 47-0 on Feb. 11 on a nearly identical bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery) which advocated for a broader definition of “eligible veteran.” Under Manno’s version, preferential treatment would extend to former employees from the Coast and Geodetic Survey, an environmental agency within the Department of Commerce that records changes in the ecosystem, like land elevation and shorelines.
While Coast and Geodetic Survey employees aren’t traditional soldiers, Manno counts them and their spouses as preferential beneficiaries because they still “wear uniforms” and are “commissioned officers.”
Manno said he believes that “the common sense bill” will “move very quickly” through the House, and get signed by Gov. Larry Hogan.
In moving forward, the two committees will conference to consolidate the companion bills, and nail down exactly who is covered under the umbrella term “veteran.”