Republican Gov. Larry Hogan pitched a new campaign promise Tuesday as he highlighted a Maryland law that will soon give state employees 18 weeks of paid parental leave — the most generous such benefit in the region.

Hogan’s full-throated embrace of expanded parental leave marks a departure from earlier this year, when his administration opposed it. The governor said Tuesday that he will propose a tax credit in his next term to encourage private companies to match the state’s new policy.

“It is our hope that other employers and small businesses throughout the state will follow our lead,” Hogan said.

As he seeks to become the state’s first GOP executive to win a second term in 64 years, Hogan pitched his proposed tax credit during a day-long visit to vote-rich Montgomery County.

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The governor said his administration will go beyond what is called for in the parental-leave law that takes effect Monday.

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Under rules his administration wrote, state workers will be allowed to use their time at any point during the first six months of a child’s life, making it easier for new parents to attend doctor appointments and adjust to life with a small child.

“I understand how difficult it is,” said Hogan, a grandfather of four whose youngest granddaughters were born in June and July.

He said watching his children and staffers be working parents “had a lot to do” with his support for expanded parental-leave policies, as did his desire to recruit talented workers to the state payroll.

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The Hogan administration opposed the expansion of parental leave when Democratic lawmakers proposed it this year.

In a February letter to state lawmakers labeled “OPPOSE,” administration officials said the state’s current policies “adequately provide ‘parental’ leave protections for employees.”

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Currently, workers can take up to six weeks of accrued vacation and sick time after the birth or adoption of a child. The new law grants an additional 12 weeks paid, Hogan aides said.

Hogan directed questions about why his administration initially objected to the expansion to Budget Secretary David Brinkely, who said the administration generally opposes any legislation that increases spending.

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Hogan’s announcement Tuesday in a Democratic stronghold stunned state lawmakers who worked to pass the new parental-leave law.

“That’s amazing,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, state Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

The measure passed the Democrat-dominated General Assembly on a mostly party-line vote in the final minutes of the session that adjourned in April. Of the 134 votes to pass the bill, just 11 came from the 64 Republicans in the legislature. Hogan signed the bill into law in May.

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“The administration was in no way helpful with its passage,” Ferguson said. “I’m pleased that the governor signed the bill, and that after the hard work is done, he’s joined the effort to help Maryland families.”

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Democrat Ben Jealous, the former NAACP chief running for governor, accused Hogan of “misleading hypocrisy.”

Jealous said in a statement that the state’s working families deserve better and that the Democrats in the legislature deserve the credit for helping them.

Hogan brushed off the criticism from Democrats that he had an election-year conversion.

“They can say whatever they like,” Hogan said.

With Maryland state employees soon able to take as much as 18 weeks off with pay, Maryland’s policy will be more generous than that in Virginia and Washington. In June, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed an executive order granting mothers and fathers eight weeks of full pay after the birth or adoption of a child. The District already offers workers eight paid weeks off. Delaware will also offer 12 weeks paid to state workers starting in April.

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Fourteen states and the District have passed laws granting parental leave to state employees, according to a report released last week by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Maryland advocates for family policies said they were pleased to see Hogan implement expanded parental leave and that he went the extra step of granting employees flexibility on when to take it.

“It’s a critical support, not just for babies but their parents,” said Clinton Macsherry of the Maryland Family Network. “It helps ensure a great start, not just in the immediate aftermath of birth but through those critical first six months.”

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