The Maryland House of Delegates on Tuesday approved a bill that would require employers with at least 15 workers to provide paid sick leave for employees, a benefit currently mandated in only four U.S. states.
The measure now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers said it faces steep odds.
Paid sick leave has been proposed in Annapolis for years but had never before cleared a chamber.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) said he wants to at least give the proposal a hearing with his panel before the session ends Monday so that lawmakers can identify concerns and address them in preparation for further consideration next year.
“It’s late, and obviously there is a lot more work to do,” he said.
The bill also could be opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has emphasized the importance of making Maryland an easier place to operate a business.
Hogan was noncommittal Tuesday, saying he would give the bill “every consideration” if the full legislature passes it.
Bill sponsor Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said he was proud of the House for having done its part.
“It’s further than this legislation has ever gone before,” he said. “I’m deeply appreciative of this chamber.”
After the 84-to-54 vote in favor of the bill was displayed in the chamber Tuesday morning, Clippinger shared a hug with Senate Majority Leader Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the Senate version of the legislation and came to the House to watch the delegates vote.
“Leadership needs to recognize how important this bill is,” she said.
Some lawmakers say privately that they suspect the House’s decision to advance the measure was an attempt to appease advocates of progressive labor laws, who have been more vocal than usual about the issue this year.
Opponents say the legislation, which includes exemptions for agricultural employees, workers younger than 18 and seasonal staff who work fewer than 90 days a year, would place a burden on employers at a time of economic uncertainty and when Maryland is trying to change perceptions that it is unfriendly toward business.
“This bill kills opportunity in the state of Maryland,” said Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert). “This bill makes it less likely that companies will hire and keep employees.”
Supporters of paid sick leave in Maryland and nationwide argue the opposite point, saying that requiring the benefit is not only the right thing to do, but also would help companies attract and retain quality workers while preventing the spread of germs at restaurants and other workplaces.
They also say businesses have thrived for generations with other labor policies and safety-net programs in place, including Social Security, minimum-wage laws and unemployment insurance.
“It’s time to modernize our labor policies and build the workforce of today and tomorrow, and not yesteryear,” Del. Aruna Miller (D-Montgomery) said Tuesday. “The best prescription for our economy is a healthy workforce.”
The other states that have enacted sick-leave legislation are California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon. Many local jurisdictions have also adopted such laws, including Montgomery County, the District of Columbia, New York City and Seattle.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.