Paid sick leave advocates scramble to get bill on governor’s desk quickly

By Bruce DePuyt

Backers of a paid sick leave measure that’s been working its way through the General Assembly are trying to get a bill onto Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk as quickly as possible, hoping to force him to sign or veto the bill in time for lawmakers to override him before this year’s legislative session adjourns.

Both chambers have approved bills with veto-proof margins. The House bill — marked H.B. 1, a sign it’s a top priority for legislative leaders — mandates seven days of paid sick leave. It was approved 88-51, largely along party lines.

The Senate version, requiring five days of paid sick leave for companies with 15 or more employees, was approved 29-18.  (Companies with fewer than 15 employees would be required to offer five days of unpaid leave under the Senate bill.)

Hogan (R), who came out in favor of paid sick leave in December, has labeled the Democrats’ measures “dead on arrival,” citing their burden on small businesses. Hogan has advocated for $60 million in tax incentives, something the Assembly seems disinclined to provide. Lawmakers have not voted on his proposal.

The General Assembly adjourns April 10. Hogan said there is plenty of time for lawmakers and his team to reach a compromise.

Maryland would join a growing list of states in making paid sick leave mandatory. A coalition boasting 160 supporting organizations has been working in Annapolis for five years to get legislation approved.

Maryland’s constitution requires that a bill that reaches the governor’s desk by the 83rd day of the session must be signed or vetoed prior to adjournment, and backers hope to put the squeeze on Hogan by reconciling the competing bills early enough to trigger that requirement.

At a news conference last week, Hogan said “I will veto them immediately because they will simply kill businesses and jobs.”

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), says the administration bill provides no new benefits. “They still have not been able to locate one business that doesn’t already offer sick leave that would be covered by this bill,” he said.

Madaleno said Hogan’s measure “got him the headline he wanted.”

Backers of paid health leave claim employees will be less likely to go to work when they’re sick — and spread germs to co-workers and customers. Also, parents will be able to stay home with a sick kid without having to suffer loss of income.

“Hundreds of thousands of Marylanders are facing impossible choices between their families and their health,” said Liz Richards, coalition director of Working Matters, the group pushing to get sick leave passed in Maryland. “This would make a huge difference in their lives.”

Business groups testified against lawmakers’ versions of the bills and remain opposed. “The governor knows first hand how difficult it can be to own and operate a small business,” Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, told the Baltimore Sun. “His continued dedication to our members is evident in his latest move to ensure that job creators do not suffer under what would be an extremely costly mandate.”

Several Senate Democrats joined with GOP colleagues in supporting various amendments offered during debate. While the amendments were defeated, it’s an open question whether the Senate could muster the 29 votes needed to override a Hogan veto.

It takes 85 votes to override a gubernatorial veto in the House.

Among the issues that came up during debate — how many hours a worker would need to put in to qualify for the new benefit and how to treat seasonal personnel.

The National Partnership for Women and Families has a chart that compares the paid sick leave laws approved by Washington, D.C., Montgomery County and seven other states.

Bruce DePuyt is a freelance journalist.  He has covered the Maryland General Assembly  since 1990, most recently for NewsChannel 8.  Email: brdepuyt@icloud.com.

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