The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland flexes progressive Democratic muscles to override two Hogan vetoes

Maryland on Friday became the ninth state in the country to require paid sick leave and the second to bar colleges from asking prospective students about their criminal histories after Democrats easily overrode two 2017 vetoes by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Both bills were top priorities of progressive advocacy groups. Their resurrection illustrates the power Democrats wield in both houses of the state legislature even as Hogan maintains sky-high approval ratings, and they underscore the urgency of Hogan's quest to flip five Senate seats in the November and dissolve the Democrats' veto-proof majority.

Hogan campaigned hard to persuade Democrats to enact his own proposal and abandon the General Assembly's sick-leave legislation, which he said would hurt businesses and potentially invade workers' privacy. But the Senate voted 30-17 to override the veto, one vote more than what was needed.

It voted 32-15 to override the ban-the-box legislation affecting college applications. The House of Delegates overrode both vetoes on Thursday.

Advocates pushed for six years for Maryland to join other states in forcing businesses to give sick leave to workers who are ill or need to care for a sick family member. The bill also provides "safe" leave for workers to seek help to deal with domestic abuse or sexual assault. Under the law, companies with 15 or more employees will be required to provide five days of paid sick or safe leave a year.

"Passage of this bill will make life a little easier for thousands of hard-working Marylanders," Caryn York, executive director of the Job Opportunity Task Force, said in a statement. "No longer will working families have to choose between taking care of themselves or loved ones and paying for rent or groceries."

Eight other states — Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Arizona, Washington and Rhode Island — as well as smaller jurisdictions that include the District and Montgomery County have enacted paid-sick-leave laws.

Republicans said the Maryland law will lead to job loss, and they criticized Democrats for refusing to consider a less-generous alternative Hogan proposed this year before acting on the override. Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Kent) called the measure "an overly prescriptive policy that hurts job creators."

But supporters said the legislation will ensure that more than half a million workers, many of whom are in low-paying jobs, are able to take time off when needed. Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles), chairman of the Finance Committee, which debated the bill last year, said he viewed its passage as part of his responsibility as a legislator to "protect the health and welfare of our citizens."

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor will continue to push the General Assembly to consider his proposal, which would require businesses with 25 or more employees to offer paid sick leave and which phases in the program over three years.

At the very least, she said, Hogan is calling on lawmakers to fix "serious flaws" in the bill, including the lack of flexibility for businesses and the possibility that workers' privacy could be violated if employers ask about the reasons they need time off.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said that the governor's bill will receive a hearing and that he hoped Hogan, who has not appeared before a legislative committee to discuss a bill during his three years in office, will testify about the measure.

He said the legislature will consider enacting the law in 90 days, rather than 30, giving the state additional time to set regulations and help businesses get up to speed.

Mike O'Halloran,state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Maryland, said he was "thoroughly disappointed" in the override vote of a "one-size-fits-all" mandate that will have "disastrous" results on the state's economy.

But Middleton said the Senate amended the bill last year to address concerns from the business community, including reducing the number of annual paid leave days from seven to five.

Maryland follows Louisiana in enacting the "ban-the-box" legislation, which prohibits public and private colleges from asking about criminal convictions on student applications. Louisiana passed a similar measure last year.

The bill expands Maryland's criminal justice reform efforts. Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City) said it was designed to provide an opportunity to criminals who are trying to turn their lives around.

Maryland already prohibits public employers from asking about past convictions on job applications. The new law is aimed at making it easier for people with a criminal past to improve their lives by attending college and earning a degree.

Advocates say having the question on college applications can disqualify some prospective students and scare away others.

The ban does not apply directly to Maryland colleges that use the Common Application or other third-party application systems. But those colleges will be required to include a notice on their websites that any information they receive about criminal history will not disqualify applicants from being accepted.

Shareese DeLeaver Churchill, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the measure shows "blatant disregard for victims' rights" and will make campuses less safe.