Democrats will try again in 2016 to make Maryland one of the few states in the nation that require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers.
State Senate Majority Leader Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) and Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said last week that they will propose bills to require businesses with 10 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.
Both lawmakers sponsored similar legislation in 2015, but the measures stalled at the committee level. They said that they will introduce new versions of the bills within the first weeks of the 2016 legislative session, with minor changes to clarify details such as how the rules would apply to businesses that already provide paid sick leave.
“We want to present the best bill possible, but at same time we want to accommodate as many people as we can,” Pugh said.
Sick-leave advocates have tried for the past year to capitalize on support from the Obama administration to promote policies on paid sick leave. They have achieved some success at the state and local levels, including in the District of Columbia, New York City and Montgomery County. Maryland would be the fifth state to enact sick-leave legislation, following California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon.
President Obama endorsed mandatory paid sick leave during his 2015 State of the Union address, during which Pugh sat with first lady Michelle Obama. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez attended Montgomery County’s bill signing in June as part of the administration’s efforts to promote the cause.
More than 720,000 workers in Maryland lack paid sick leave, according to Working Matters, a driving force behind efforts in the state to promote the benefit. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly balked at sick-leave proposals dating to at least 2013, with many lawmakers fearing a potential backlash amid heightened concerns about the state’s business climate.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has focused on limiting regulations and making the state more friendly to business owners; for that reason, advocates say, legislative leaders are unlikely to seek a floor vote on paid sick leave unless they believe they have a veto-proof majority.
The 141-member House needs 85 votes to overcome a veto, and the 47-member Senate needs 29; Democrats hold 33 seats in the Senate and 91 in the House.
In 2015, 77 delegates and 22 senators co-sponsored the sick-leave bills, eight and seven votes short of a veto-proof majority, respectively.
“There was a feeling last time that the first year of a governor’s term would not be the right time to put this on his desk,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of the Job Opportunities Task Force. “At this point, there’s really no reason to wait.”
Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill did not offer a position on paid sick days but said the governor will “carefully review any bill that makes it to his desk.”
More than 140 groups have expressed support for Maryland sick-day legislation since October, including unions, businesses, faith-based organizations and public-health advocates.
Sick-leave advocates say workers should not lose pay when staying home to recover from illness or care for a sick child. They also say the requirement would save employers money, boosting worker morale and loyalty and preventing the spread of illness by employees who go to work when they are sick so they won’t lose pay.
Opponents contend that the mandate would be overly burdensome for businesses, many of which are still recovering from the recession or adjusting to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act and Maryland’s minimum-wage hike.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that paid sick leave would cost Maryland employers about $119 million a year while providing more than $137 million in annual benefits, largely as savings from lower turnover and reduced spread of the flu.
Montgomery County’s law, like the proposals from Pugh and Clippinger, requires employers to provide at least one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked.
A similar proposal to the Prince George’s County Council failed last fall, with several members saying that the state should enact the policy instead.