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Hogan proposes 5 days paid sick leave for Md. businesses with at least 50 workers

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces plans to introduce legislation for paid sick leave benefits in Maryland's next legislative session. Chris Shank, his chief legislative officer, is at right. (Brian Witte/AP)

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will propose legislation requiring companies with at least 50 employees to provide five days a year of paid sick leave, triggering a likely standoff with Democratic lawmakers who tried to pass a more expansive law this year.

Hogan, who owned a real estate company before taking office, described his bill as a “common-sense” approach that would cover “nearly all working Marylanders without placing an unmanageable burden on job creators.”

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees would be eligible for a tax break if they offer paid sick leave.

Hogan's proposal would make Maryland just the eighth state, along with the District of Columbia, to require paid sick leave for a significant proportion of employees. Connecticut, California, Massachusetts and Oregon have implemented such rules; Arizona, Vermont and Washington passed mandates this year. Montgomery County, Maryland's largest jurisdiction, enacted its own sick-leave requirement this year.

The laws include a wide range of guidelines, but in most cases they apply to employers with fewer than 50 workers and therefore cover a wider swath of businesses than Hogan’s plan.

In Maryland, where Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers, advocates have pushed for paid sick leave for years. They had a victory in this year's legislative session, when a proposal requiring businesses with at least 15 employees to provide sick leave was approved in the House of Delegates. That bill covered all part-time employees, while Hogan's bill would cover only those who work at least 30 hours a week.

The 2016 legislation, which business groups said would place an undue economic burden on employers, did not advance in the Senate.

Hogan announced his proposal for 2017 at a news conference Wednesday that did not include any lawmakers, advocates or representatives of business groups. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) said the governor’s bill was an attempt to head off legislation that he and other liberal lawmakers are preparing that again would include to smaller businesses.

The governor’s proposal drew immediate praise from House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), who runs a construction business with her husband and said the bill “strikes a good balance in protecting employees while not hamstringing new businesses.”

The proposal is similar to an amendment that Republicans proposed during the debate on sick leave this year.

Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), who co-sponsored the bill that died in the Senate in April, called the governor’s proposal “well-intended but insufficient,” in part because it would not include employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

“It sounds like a reasonable compromise, but in reality it’s not providing coverage to the people who need paid sick leave the most — people who don’t have it now, and the part-time and low-wage hourly workers,” Kelly said.

A bill covering businesses with at least 50 employees would affect about 473,000 workers, advocates said this spring, compared with about 595,000 who would have been entitled to paid sick leave under the 2016 House bill sponsored by Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City).

“It’s great that Governor Hogan is recognizing the importance of this issue, but the proposal as we understand it would cover far too few workers across Maryland,” said Elisabeth Sachs, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, one of the state’s leading proponents of paid sick leave.

Hogan’s bill would require employers to follow the state law on paid sick leave even in jurisdictions that have enacted more generous policies. Among such jurisdictions is Montgomery County, which requires employers with more than five employees to provide a minimum of one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.

“It’s critical that this legislation does not preempt local jurisdictions that have stepped up and done the right thing,” Montgomery County Council member Tom Hucker (D-Eastern County) said. “Montgomery County families don’t need their paid sick leave stripped by the governor. . . . State law should always be a floor, not a ceiling.”

With Democratic lawmakers expected to introduce their own sick-leave bills in the House and Senate, advocates and business groups are gearing up for a legislative battle in the three-month session that begins Jan. 11.

“If the governor is willing to sit down with the various interest groups and forge a compromise, I’m all for that,” said Middleton, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “But he has to sit down and work it out.”

Correction: Earlier versions of this story did not say that Gov. Hogan’s sick-leave proposal would apply to part-time employees who work at least 30 hours a week.

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