Maryland Senate votes to delay paid sick leave until July, days before law set to take effect

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Just three days before the state’s new paid sick leave law is scheduled to take effect, the Maryland Senate on Thursday voted to delay the policy until July.

Advocates for the delay say businesses simply aren’t ready to let the estimated 700,000 workers without paid sick leave start accruing it, and state regulators say they are not prepared to enforce the law.

“Let’s just postpone all this to July 1 to give time to get it right,” said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a chief advocate for the mandatory paid sick leave proposal and for delaying when it takes effect.

The Senate approved the delay by a 29-17 vote, with most of the chamber’s more liberal Democrats voting against it.

It now goes to the House of Delegates, where its leaders have given the idea a frosty reception.

Middleton, a veteran Democrat from Charles County, labored for years to convince the legislature to mandate most businesses give their workers paid time off. After Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto last spring complicated the timeline for implementing the law, which was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, Middleton became chief advocate for delaying it.

The Democrat-dominated General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto last month, giving businesses and state regulators just a month to get ready by Sunday.

Middleton warned his colleagues Thursday that were the law to go into effect without time to prepare, “there’s going to be so much confusion. There’s going to be anger.”

He predicted that businesses forced into providing the benefit before they were ready would do so with resentment.

Senate opponents of the delay, who are all Democrats, said workers have been waiting for five years while state lawmakers debated this law, and a further delay of five months was not acceptable.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, called the delay “an egregious setback to these hardworking families. … Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Hogan objected to the sick leave bill because he thought it went too far and unfairly burdened small businesses. After he vetoed it, his administration’s Department of Labor and Licensing did not prepare to enforce it and now says the soonest they would be ready is late spring.

The governor and all Senate Republicans supported delaying the law by five months.

“Businesses aren’t ready for it. The department hasn’t adopted regulation,” Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican, said. “For businesses, this was coming up quick.”

In the House of Delegates, leaders whose support is crucial in approving the delay have flatly said they don’t intend to do so.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch; Economic Matters Chairman Dereck Davis, whose committee will hear the legislation; and Del. Luke Clippinger, who was lead sponsor of last session’s sick leave bill, have each said they think the law should take effect on time.

Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, said he thinks businesses have had plenty of time to prepare, and should have known a veto override was likely since the legislation passed both chambers last April by veto-proof margins.

“All we heard for six years was business groups saying, ‘We talked to our members, and … ’ ” Clippinger said Thursday. “Presumably they talked about the details of the bill.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

ecox@baltsun.com

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