Maryland's battle over requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave entered a new phase Tuesday, with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) proposing a less-generous alternative to a bill approved this spring by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
Hogan vetoed that bill, which would require businesses with at least 15 employees to provide five paid sick days a year and was vocally opposed by parts of the business community. Democratic leaders say lawmakers will override the veto when the legislature reconvenes in January.
But the bill passed the Senate with exactly the number of votes needed for an override, meaning that the defection of even a single lawmaker could leave Democrats unable to enact the bill.
Hogan's alternative proposal would require businesses with at least 25 employees to offer paid sick leave, phasing in the rule over three years by applying it to companies of different sizes during that span. Businesses could also get a waiver if they prove that providing sick leave would cause a significant financial hardship.
The governor said he will propose legislation to create tax credits for businesses with fewer than 50 employees that provide paid leave benefits. He said the bill approved by the Democrats would kill jobs and harm small businesses, and would also invade workers' privacy by requiring them to tell employers why they are requesting leave.
Democrats and advocates who pushed for the 2017 bill said those criticisms were unfounded, and legislative leaders said they are confident they have the votes to keep the bill in place.
"We're going to override the governor's veto in January," said Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), who sponsored the vetoed measure. "We're on the right side of this issue."
Five states and several cities and counties, including the District, require businesses to provide paid sick leave.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) said the Democratic bill is "not as anti-business as the governor says it is . . . What I hear from advocates is that everyone who voted for the bill is staying firm."
Hogan introduced a measure this year that would have required businesses with at least 50 employees to provide paid sick days, with a tax incentive for smaller businesses that agreed to follow suit. The bill, which Hogan said was the first sick-leave plan proposed by a Republican governor, never moved out of committee.
Middleton said he is open to discussing Hogan's proposal for providing tax credits to offset the costs of providing paid sick leave. "But if you give a tax credit, you have to reduce services or find additional sources of revenue, and I don't think there's much appetite for those things," he said.
Hogan said his new plan is based in part on findings from a work group he created in May to study how mandatory sick leave would affect employers and workers.
Advocates accused him of trying to weaken worker protections while still showing voters that he supports popular ideas ahead of the 2018 election. "It strikes me as a political stunt to muddy the waters and confuse voters," said Maryland Working Families director Charly Carter.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll this year found overwhelming support in Maryland for paid sick leave.
Eighty-four percent of respondents approved of requiring the benefit for businesses with at least 15 workers, while 87 percent backed such a mandate for businesses with at least 50 employees. Additionally, 78 percent said they would support tax benefits for businesses with fewer than 50 workers that provide paid sick leave.