Maryland lawmakers have decided not to advance legislation that would have required many businesses to let workers earn as many as seven paid sick days each year. Advocates accused Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature, of only supporting working-class issues during election years.
Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) and Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), who lead the committees that handled the legislation, explained the decision in a letter to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which opposes the bill, and the Job Opportunities Task Force, which is fighting for paid sick days.
Given “the complex nature of this legislation and the potential impact that it may have, if enacted, on the State’s businesses and workforce,” the legislation needs more work, said the letter, which is dated Friday and was made public Monday.
Middleton and Davis encouraged the two parties — which are hardly allies — to work together over the next year and to return with a new version of the bill that would be more acceptable to the business community.
“Should similar legislation be introduced in 2016, we will give it our utmost consideration,” the two chairmen wrote.
From the beginning, this legislation faced tough odds: There was great turnover in the Maryland General Assembly, plus a new Republican governor who has accused Democrats of burdening small businesses with a series of new mandates.
But activists who represent working-class families made this their top legislative priority for the year, seeing it as a continuation of a minimum-wage increase that lawmakers approved last year.
The Maryland Chamber of Commerce opposed the legislation, saying in a statement that “employers should be able to manage their workforces and create wage and benefit programs that balance economic stresses with employee needs.”
Officials at Maryland Working Families, a driving force behind the minimum-wage increase, said in a statement Monday that they worry that it could be years before the state mandates paid sick leave, an issue that has been embraced in other heavily Democratic states.
And they worry that this issue could have the same fate as the minimum-wage legislation: For three years, they wrote, activists campaigned for an increase in the state’s minimum wage, but it wasn’t until an election year that it passed. By then, the bill had been watered down, and several exemptions were added.
“Maryland’s working families shouldn’t have to wait until another year or another election cycle to be able to earn paid sick leave,” the statement said.