State encourages hiring preferences for veterans
May 24, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah attorney, lawmaker team up for groundbreaking legislation
David Black, a respected employment attorney and Issaquah resident, remembers the challenges his father, a Vietnam War veteran, faced after returning to the civilian workforce.
“He had a really hard time getting employment when I was growing up,” he said. “I remember him having three or four part-time jobs trying to piece something together, trying to make things work.”
Black stood alongside Gov. Chris Gregoire, state legislators and advocates late last month as the governor signed a first-in-the-nation measure to encourage private employers in Washington to hire veterans.
The legislation Black crafted and helped to pass enables private employers to voluntarily give preference to hiring veterans, or veterans’ widows and widowers.
Because the measure encourages, rather than requires, private employers to give preference to hiring veterans, the legislation does not run afoul of state or federal antidiscrimination laws. State law also prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants due to military status.
“The way to encourage positive employment regulation that has a social origin or a social benefit as well is to make it permissive and to encourage it,” Black said.
Under existing laws, the federal government and most states, including Washington, grant employment preference to veterans, but encouraging private employers to do so is unique.
State Rep. Jay Rodne, a Marine Corps Reserve colonel and a North Bend Republican, sponsored the measure.
“House Bill 1432 simply permits employers to give veterans preference in employment decisions, but it’s not a requirement. This will provide veterans with more employment opportunities and is an appropriate way to honor their service and sacrifices,” he said in a statement after Gregoire signed the bill.
Rodne represents Issaquah and the 5th Legislative District. The lawmaker completed a tour as the commanding officer of a 1,200-Marine reserve battalion headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and served overseas in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Black started to consider a legal option to encourage private employers to consider veterans after meeting Marjorie James at a conference. James leads the Redmond-based Hire America’s Heroes, a nonprofit organization formed to encourage employers to hire veterans.
“Because my father was a veteran, I felt strongly about the issue, and it was something that I felt I had the expertise given my training and my background in employment law,” Black said.
Strong support in Olympia
In December, he met Rodne for lunch at Stan’s Bar-B-Q in downtown Issaquah to discuss the proposal before the Legislature convened.
Rodne “did the legwork on finding the cosponsors,” Black recalled. “I started attempting to build coalition support among the nonprofit organizations that would be instrumental.”
Then, Black reached out to human resources professionals through the Society for Human Resource Management, a national organization, to gauge interest in the proposal.
Allied Waste and Boeing Co. backers also offered support for the legislation. Black also credited his Seattle firm, Jackson Lewis, for allowing him to pursue the proposal.
The approach amounted to success. The legislation received strong support: a 94-4 vote in the state House of Representatives and a unanimous vote in the state Senate. In the Senate, Spokane Valley Republican Jeff Baxter sponsored the companion bill. The legislation passed 49-0 in the upper chamber. Gregoire signed the bipartisan-backed legislation April 20.
“It’s much easier to kill legislation than it is to get it passed,” Black joked.
Issaquah’s delegation in Olympia overwhelmingly supported the measure. In the House, Democrats Judy Clibborn and Deb Eddy voted against the bill.
Black faced some questions from employers concerned about asking job applicants about prior military service. In the end, the measure received overwhelming support from legislators in both parties.
“I tried to build some support from a variety of sources before even thinking about getting it introduced,” he said.
State law prohibits discrimination based on age, disability, gender, race and numerous other traits. Because the measure is voluntary, the preferences established under House Bill 1432 do not violate local, state or federal equal employment opportunity laws.
The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had not looked into the legislation, Communications Director Doug Honig said.
Hire America’s Heroes and other veterans’ advocacy groups praised state leaders for encouraging private employers to choose veterans.
“As an organization with many HR professionals, we are dedicated to simplifying the hiring process in corporate America for veterans so that we can capitalize upon the range of talents and professional values that service members bring,” Hire America’s Heroes President Marjorie James said in a statement. “This legislation makes it easier for the private sector to develop voluntary employment preference programs for those that have served our nation in time of need.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.