Maryland Democrats sparred with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Thursday over paid sick leave, an issue that was a focal point of this year’s legislative session in Annapolis and will likely resurface in next year’s gubernatorial election campaign.
Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Matthews accused Hogan, who this spring vetoed a sick-leave bill passed by the legislature, of creating an "anti-workers" committee in an attempt to continue to block the bill, which requires employers who have at least 15 workers to provide them with five paid sick days a year.
Democrats, who have a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly, plan to override the governor's veto when the 2018 legislative session begins in January.
The business community is urging lawmakers to let the veto stand, however, and may seek to bolster its argument with the findings of a task force Hogan created to study the impact paid sick leave would have on employers and workers.
It was that task force that drew the ire of Democrats on Thursday.
Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore City), the lead sponsor of the sick-leave legislation, questioned the need for a study, noting that Hogan proposed his own sick-leave bill last year that would have applied to larger companies, and did not seek a task force then.
Matthews called the task force a “sham” and filed a complaint with the Open Meetings Compliance Board because the task force has not opened its meetings to the public or notified them about the agenda or what is taking place.
She said the group’s “lack of transparency . . . makes it clear it is not a sincere attempt [by the governor] to find a solution” to providing paid sick leave to the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders who don’t have it.
But Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the state’s open-meetings law does not apply to the committee, which is part of the governor’s Executive Council. The Open Meetings Act applies to public bodies, Mayer said. And the committee, created by the governor and made up of representatives from various state departments, does not qualify as a public body.
Mayer said Hogan supports paid sick leave; he just disagrees with the legislature on how to go about it. His sick-leave bill would have applied to companies with 50 or more employees, and offered tax incentives to smaller businesses that agreed to provide sick leave.
“This is about policy for us,” Mayer said. “It’s clear it’s about politics for them.”
The task force, led by Department of Labor and Licensing Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, includes representatives from the state departments of Labor, Commerce and Human Resources and staff members from the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s office.
The committee is supposed to collect data on the impact paid sick leave would have on businesses and workers, survey employers and workers to understand the “needs, challenges and opportunities” related to the policy, and develop recommendations that provide an “optimal balance of providing access to and enforcing paid leave without causing detrimental economic effects.”
A report is due Dec. 1.
Another issue lawmakers were expecting to confront in the upcoming legislative session will likely be pushed off a year, after a commission appointed by the legislature announced this week that it plans to delay unveiling a new education funding formula.
Education advocates have been waiting for years for the state to revamp the formula.
The Kirwan Commission had planned to submit its report in December but announced this week that a final report will not be issued until spring.