Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday promised to veto paid sick leave proposals advancing in the legislature, deriding the plans as business-killers designed to hurt his re-election campaign.
"If either of these job-killing bills reaches my desk, they are dead on arrival. I will veto them immediately," Hogan said during a State House news conference. "They are a partisan attempt to put points on the board to use against me in a campaign in 2018."
Hogan, a Republican, pushed his own version of a paid sick leave this year, but the Democrat-controlled General Assembly moved forward with proposals crafted by their members that would mandate paid sick time for a greater number of workers.
"We've been working on this for five years," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat and lead sponsor in the House of Delegates. "This is not a cunning plan to get him."
Hogan's refusal to endorse the legislature's plans complicates efforts to approve the measures pushed by the legislature. While the House version passed with a veto-proof majority, preliminary votes on the more conservative Senate version suggest that chamber does not have the votes to override a veto.
The governor said he would be willing to compromise with lawmakers, but would not offer reporters details on which elements of his plan must be adopted to win his support.
"Working together, we can still pass a common sense bill before the session is over," Hogan said. "I think it's time to put politics aside."
Clippinger said Hogan and his staff have not reached out to him at any point to discuss a compromise, and he doubted Wednesday's announcement would revive the governor's proposal.
"We're going to move forward," Clippinger said. "The 750,000 Marylanders without paid sick time can't wait."
Hogan's plan, which is languishing in committee, would mandate sick time benefits at companies with 50 or more employees in a single location — exempting franchises that have workers spread out over multiple sites.
His proposal calls for a mandatory five days of paid leave for those workers, and would grant up to $60 million in tax breaks to smaller firms that voluntarily offer that benefit.
Advocates say the governor's plan would not place an undue burden on small businesses that can't afford to offer paid leave, and critics say it would not promise the benefit to many people — including lower-paid food industry workers — who need it the most.
The Senate is poised to vote on its plan Thursday, after wrestling for several days with whether the sick leave requirement would force companies to lay off workers or close altogether. The Senate's bill differs significantly from sick leave legislation that already cleared the House of Delegates.
The Senate's version would require companies with at least 15 employees to allow their full-time workers to earn a minimum of five days of sick leave. Smaller companies would be required to offer the same amount of unpaid leave.
Part-time employees who work at least 12 hours each week would be allowed to earn leave, and companies would not be required to allow workers to use their earned leave in the first 106 days of their employment. That covers the full summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
On Wednesday, senators rejected a change that would have exempted companies that could prove providing sick leave would be a hardship.
Employers are already required to provide sick leave in Montgomery County. Sen. Nancy King, a Montgomery Democrat, said that requirement hasn't driven companies out of business.
"So far the sky hasn't fallen," she said.
The House of Delegates, meanwhile, already passed its version of the bill, which requires at least seven days of leave for full-time workers. Part-time employees who work eight hours per week would be eligible, and the seasonal exemption is for only 90 days in the House version.
Hogan, who ran a real estate business before he was elected three years ago, called the more modest version advanced by the Senate "terrible" and predicted it "would be disastrous for our economy, which would hurt hundreds of small businesses, and would likely cost us thousands of jobs."
An association of small businesses that opposed both the governor's plan and the one offered by lawmakers applauded the governor's willingness to veto paid sick leave.
"The governor knows first hand how difficult it can be to own and operate a small business and his continued dedication to our members is evident in his latest move to ensure that job creators do not suffer under what would be an extremely costly mandate," said Mike O'Halloran, Maryland state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.
The advocacy group Working Matters released a statement saying the plans advancing in the legislature represent "five years of compromise, deliberation and input from Maryland businesses, health professionals, community members and working families whose lives would be forever changed for the better by this bill. ... We are disappointed by the governor's announcement today, and urge him to do the right thing."
Although the governor would not offer specifics on what proposal he would support, he told reporters "I want to make something very clear: I support common-sense, paid sick leave for Marylanders."