The Maryland General Assembly voted earlier this month to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the Healthy Working Families Act. The bill will ensure that businesses with more than 15 employees provide critical paid leave for their workers.
The Maryland Senate overrode Hogan’s veto on January 12 in a 30-17 vote (just one more vote than the required three-fifths vote). The House had also voted to override the previous day. A Baltimore County Democrat, Senator Bobby Zirkin, switched his stance to vote in favor of the bill, pulling the majority just past the minimum. “It is never too late to do the right thing for the citizens,” he stated to the Baltimore Sun.
In compliance with the bill, employees will now receive an hour of sick leave per every 30 hours of labor. The bill has the potential to affect approximately 700,000 Maryland residents who do not have guaranteed paid leave, according to the bill’s advocates, though opponents project a much smaller number. Smaller companies with less than fifteen employers must also provide sick leave at the same rate, but without pay.
Sick leave is an umbrella term that can be applied to illness, medical treatment for the employee or the employee’s family, or domestic violence, assault, and stalking.
Senate Republicans had objected to the bill’s terms, emphasizing that many small businesses could not afford the costs of paid sick leave, and would subsequently need to close their doors and layoff employees if such a measure in enacted.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said of the decision: “Despite being educated on the disastrous results that this one-size-fits-all mandate will have on Maryland jobs and economic output, the legislature opted for another harmful policy that has more red tape, more record-keeping, and devastating sanctions.”
Siding with Republican lawmakers and business owners, Governor Hogan had vetoed the measure in the 2017 legislative session, citing its debilitating consequences for small businesses. In its place, he introduced a compromise proposal that would have more gradually implemented paid sick leave. Paid sick leave would have been required for businesses with more than fifty employees this year, and its requirements would be broadened to smaller companies of 25 employees by 2020.
He reasoned that his alternative, the Paid Leave Compromise Act, would provide relief to small businesses rather than enforce punitive action. In a press briefing on December 11, Hogan stated: “We preferred a carrot rather than a stick approach, rewarding rather than penalizing small business.”
These rewards would have provided $100 million to businesses to be used for employee benefits like sick leave and child care. Democrats expressed discontent with the compromise package, questioning the source of the tax credit money and stressing the necessity for clear and immediate action.
Although the Healthy Working Families Act is scheduled to take effect 30 days after the vote on February 11, a new bill introduced on January 23 could delay the implementation of mandatory paid leave until April. This proposal is sponsored by Charles County Senator Mac Middleton, who says that the delay will allow small businesses to adequately plan for new sick leave programs. However, because this is emergency legislation, the bill must garner three-fifths of both houses to pass.
As of now though, with the passing of this act, Maryland has become the ninth state in the nation to guarantee paid sick leave.
Article by MoCo Student Staff writer Emily Tian of Richard Montgomery High School