Senate Advances Sick Leave Delay; House Action Doubtful

By William F. Zorzi

The Maryland Senate Thursday approved and sent to the House of Delegates a measure that would push back the effective date of the state’s sick-leave legislation to July 1, despite odds that the bill would likely die in the lower house.

The emergency bill, sponsored by Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, passed 29-17.

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Sen. Thomas M. Middleton

The House now has to decide whether to take up the bill at all, but any action would not stop a requirement for employers to pay sick leave earned by nearly 700,000 workers in the state from becoming law on Sunday.

That legislation establishing the sick-leave requirement was vetoed by the governor last year and then overridden by the General Assembly in January as one of its first orders of business. Under the bill as overridden, the effective date for employees to begin accruing paid leave time, and for the state to begin enforcement of the new law, is Feb. 11 — 30 days after the Jan. 12 override date.

At the time of the override vote, there was concern voiced that 30 days would not give businesses a sufficient amount of time to implement the plan, prompting talk of extending the effective date, including by Middleton, who was instrumental in revising the sick-leave bill last year.

After the override last month, Middleton introduced the legislation that would change the effective date for the measure to 60 days after Feb. 11 – that is, April 12.

But when that proposal was sent to Finance for consideration, senators heard from business owners and others that they needed still more time to gear up for the requirements of the legislation. In response, the Finance Committee further amended Middleton’s bill to push the effective date for enforcing the legislation another 2-1/2 months, until July 1, before it was brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

On Monday night, Sen. Roger Manno, a Montgomery County Democrat, asked that the bill be laid over. Then on Tuesday, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, had Middleton’s bill special ordered for a day so that she could have an amendment drafted allowing for employees to begin accruing sick leave time on Feb. 11, while leaving the July 1 date in place for the state to begin enforcement.

But Conway rose Wednesday to tell the Senate she was not going to bother with the amendment after all, because, she said, House leadership made it clear to her that they would not pass the Middleton bill.

Nevertheless, before the vote Thursday, Middleton told the Senate, “I pray, I really and truly pray, that the House will take this up, amend it, send it back over, so we will do it together.”

During debate in both houses prior to the override last month, supporters pointed out that had Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) not vetoed the bill last spring, the legislation would have been effective Jan. 1, giving affected businesses and the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation months to prepare to implement the law.

Middleton’s bill was introduced as an emergency measure, requiring approval of three-fifths of the members of each house – a so-called “supermajority” — 29 of the 47 senators and 85 of the 141 delegates.

The governor’s “Paid Leave Compromise Act of 2018” and “Small Business Relief Tax Credit,” now pending in the General Assembly, was introduced this year in response to the legislature’s sick-leave measure, which Hogan has called “burdensome.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Sen. Joan Carter Conway asked Tuesday to have the bill laid over until Wednesday. The story has been updated.

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