Zirkin Provides Extra Vote for Sick Leave Veto Override
By William F. Zorzi
The Maryland Senate on Friday overrode the governor’s veto of legislation that would require employers to pay sick leave earned by nearly 700,000 workers in the state.
In a close, 30-17 vote – but not as close as anticipated – the Senate approved the override of the 2017 House bill, which Republicans painted as flawed and, in some cases, what they described as damaging to small business. The vote generally broke along partisan lines, with all 14 GOP members voting against the measure, which will take effect in 30 days.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had tried to pick off one or more of the 29 senators who had voted last year for the bill, and there was some Democratic concern over slippage in recent days, but in the end, Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) was able to hold onto the 29 members needed to override the veto – plus one.
That one was Sen. Robert A. Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, who last year voted against the measure. Two other Baltimore County Democrats joined the Republicans in voting against the measure, Sen. James Brochin and Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, along with Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
The Senate went on to override another of the governor’s vetoes on a 35-12 vote, legislation known as the “Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017,” which prohibits certain colleges and universities from asking about an applicant’s arrests and convictions in an initial application to an institution.
Hogan, who had offered compromise legislation dealing with the sick leave mandate, issued a statement through his press office about a half-hour after the vote.
“Now that this political posturing is over, it’s time for the legislature to get down to the business of fixing the serious flaws in this bill … openly acknowledged today,” said Amelia T. Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan.
Under the legislation approved yesterday, businesses with 15 or more employees will be required to have a sick leave policy in which the worker earns at least 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours he or she works. It does not apply to employees who work fewer than 12 hours a week, independent contractors and temporary workers.
The law requires the employers to grant the earned sick leave to employees for medical care for themselves or their family, for maternity or paternity leave and for circumstances resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, the Charles County Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, defended the bill on the floor against attacks from the GOP members.
“Some people say this bill is too specific … and one size fits all,” Middleton said. “If you go back six years ago, when this bill was first introduced, every time it came before the Senate Finance Committee, we said that: It’s too specific. It’s one size; you can’t have one size fits all. You can’t run businesses like that; you can’t have one set of rules.”
But now, he said, “I think there are like 149 amendments that have been put in there to change it, because it was too specific.”
Another complaint, Middleton said, was that the bill is “too complicated.”
“It’s complicated because all those amendments that we put on are complicated. There are specific examples [in the bill] for adjunct faculty, for government institutions, for restaurant workers,” Middleton said. “We took the time and heard from every single one of them – and it’s addressed in that bill. That’s what makes it complicated.”
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, was opposed to the bill last year, but had a change of heart, he said, based on having to take his 2-year-old daughter to the pediatrician with a 102-degree fever last year.
“I wasn’t on board, last year, but as a parent my views have changed,” Jennings said.
Nevertheless, he urged the Senate to reject the override and instead consider Hogan’s compromise bill, which he suggested would be fairer to small businesses than the bill before them.
He expressed particular concerns about 30 days before the bill would take effect.
“These businesses are not prepared,” Jennings said.
But Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat and Senate president pro tem, countered that the bill was sent to the governor last spring.
“The governor knew this was coming,” McFadden said. “We’ve been working on this for six years.”
“This is a hard vote because [while] I think some people will be helped … there are some people who will be hurt,” he said. “This is a challenging one for me.”
What seemed to sway him was that Middleton left the floor of the Senate last year to spend more than an hour with a Zirkin constituent who would have had problems because of the legislation.
While Zirkin said there were things that he did like in Hogan’s proposal, he voted to override the governor’s veto of the House bill.
Ultimately, Middleton said he had heard from another legislator that businesses “just don’t like to be told what to do” – which he said he understood.
But, he added: “We have a responsibility … to protect our people, the health, the welfare of our citizens, and this bill, I considered, fulfilling that obligation.”