A paid sick-leave measure, hailed by labor advocates but derided by business owners, was approved by a key Maryland Senate committee Friday, the first signal that Maryland could join the District and seven other states in requiring certain businesses to provide the benefit.
The 8-to-4 vote by the Senate Finance Committee came just hours after the House of Delegates gave final approval to a similar version of the bill. The full Senate is expected to consider the measure next week. If it advances, the two chambers — both of which have large Democratic majorities — will have to reconcile any differences before the bill can be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has proposed his own version of the legislation.
Last year, the House approved paid sick leave by a wide margin, but on the Senate side, the measure died in committee.
“After five long years of fighting for earned paid sick days, today marks the farthest the Healthy Working Families Act has ever gone before,” said Liz Richards, director of Working Matters Coalition for Earned Sick Days said in a statement. “With this critical vote, Maryland families are now closer than ever to making earned paid sick days a reality.”
While critics say requiring sick leave will hurt business owners and make the state a less-friendly place for employers, proponents say the legislation helps vulnerable workers and enables more employees to succeed in their jobs.
The Senate committee made a few changes to the House bill, which would require employers with 15 or more workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave. Employers with 14 or fewer workers must provide seven days of unpaid leave.
The most significant amendment, offered by Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery), reduced the number of sick-leave days employers are required to provide to six, or 48 hours.
The panel also approved an amendment proposed by Sen. James Mathias (D-Worcester) that would exclude certain seasonal employees from receiving sick leave. Mathias said his concern was for businesses that employ college students during the summer.
The amended bill says seasonal employees who work 106 or fewer days a year would not receive the benefit. The version of the bill passed by the House requires companies to offer paid sick leave to those who work 90 days or less.
Lawmakers also passed an amendment from Feldman that would allow Montgomery, which requires virtually all employers to provide some paid sick leave, to amend its leave law in the future. The House bill would not allow the county, the only jurisdiction in Maryland that mandates paid sick leave, to change its law.
The Senate committee rejected several amendments offered by the business community, including one, which echoed a provision in Hogan’s legislation, that would apply the mandate only to businesses with 50 or more employees and require them to provide five days of paid leave.
Other failed amendments included removing in-laws from the list of family members that a person could use leave to care for and excluding Montgomery from a preemption provision.
Early in the deliberations, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) offered an amendment that would have reduced the number of sick-leave days from seven to five. The amendment failed 4 to 6.
Three Republicans joined Klausmeier in voting for it, including Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Queen Anne’s), who said the 56 hours of leave in the initial version of the bill went significantly beyond what other states were requiring.
Feldman’s amendment reducing the number of days to six was offered as a last-minute compromise just before the committee took its final vote on the bill. Klausmeier was the only Democrat who voted against the measure in committee.
The House passed its version of the bill 88 to 51 after a spirited debate. Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) called the mandate the “nail in the coffin” for some small businesses. He and other Republicans said they hoped that the Senate version would provide more allowances to employers.
“We believe there is a way to provide this benefit for those living on the margins and look out for the small-business employers,” Kipke said. “If these people in the margins can’t get a job, they can’t be eligible for sick leave.”
Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the Economic Matters Committee, said the legislation provides for people who can’t provide for themselves. “We must help those who are on the fringes,” he said.
Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is hopeful that the full Senate will change the legislation to more closely mirror his proposal. It is not clear whether Hogan will sign a sick-leave bill that is significantly different from the one he submitted.