ANNAPOLIS – A Dorchester County official is worried that a House bill urging companies to hire disabled people could interfere with Hyatt Hotels’ plans for a $152 million resort in Cambridge.
While the Hyatt project inspired the bill, its supporters insist they are not targeting the Cambridge development. They said they went out of their way to weaken their bill so as not to offend Hyatt and Cambridge officials.
But a Dorchester County official sees the bill “as a complication that doesn’t need to exist.”
“I’m not talking about the subject matter — we just don’t need to complicate this issue,” said Dorchester County Administrator Deborah Byrd.
Byrd said she is not opposed in principle to the bill, which asks companies that operate on property purchased from state health agencies to hire developmentally disabled individuals “to the extent feasible.”
But she fears such a measure might interfere with a deal that has the potential to rejuvenate Cambridge’s economy.
“We want to do everything we can to make sure that the state and local process is as easy as possible,” for the project to be completed, she said.
Gary Ross, a Hyatt Hotels public relations manager, would not comment on the bill except to say that the company is “looking into the situation.”
Hyatt plans to convert the Eastern Shore Hospital Center on the Choptank River into a luxury hotel, golf course, convention center and residential development.
Sponsors concede they had Hyatt in mind when they drafted the bill — it would be a business operating on property purchased from a state health agency.
They also had Hyatt in mind when they decided to make the hirings voluntary instead of mandatory. But Linda Raines, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Maryland, said advocates for the disabled realized that such a requirement would have made the bill dead on arrival.
“We’re concerned that we’ll end up with nothing if we ask for the percentage,” said Raines, who would have preferred the bill to include mandatory hiring percentages. “Even this is going to be considered onerous.”
She said there will be opportunities in the future to strengthen the measure, if it passes, with a “reporting requirement,” that would compel companies to say how many disabled individuals they have hired.
Del. James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s and a sponsor of the bill, said that while it does not require companies to hire a certain percentage of disabled individuals, it still sends a “legislative message.” He scoffed at the notion that it might scare off Hyatt.
“I think Hyatt would welcome this opportunity to be a corporate neighbor in Maryland,” and join other companies who have voluntarily hired the developmentally disabled, he said.
Bobette Watts, executive assistant for the Governor’s Office for Individuals with Disabilities, said her office will support the bill, agreeing that a percentage hiring requirement would violate a “quota taboo.”
Cambridge Mayor David Wooten would not comment on the legislation.