An effort to require Maryland employers to give sick leave to workers has advanced farther in the General Assembly than in past years, winning approval Friday in the full House of Delegates and a key Senate committee.
In the morning, the House voted 88-51 to approve the measure, as the chamber did last year. Then, late in the afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee passed a slightly different version of the bill that will be considered by the full Senate next week.
"I think that we'll be able to look at the changes that have been made and move forward thoughtfully with plenty of time," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who is a lead sponsor of the bill. "I think there's a certain will to pass the bill on both sides of the hall and I feel very good."
Meanwhile, competing paid sick leave legislation proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is languishing in House and Senate committees.
The bill delegates approved Friday would require companies with 15 or more employees to allow full-time workers to earn a minimum of 56 hours of paid sick time each year, which is the equivalent of seven days. Smaller companies would be required to offer the same amount of unpaid sick time.
Part-time workers would earn sick time based on the hours they work. There are exceptions for employees who are minors, employees who are employed for fewer than 90 days and those who work less than eight hours per week.
But the version of the bill making its way through the Senate is different.
Under the Senate bill, full-time workers would be required to earn a minimum of 48 hours of sick time, or six days.
The Senate's bill also exempts employees who work fewer than 106 days, rather than 90 days — a concession for companies that hire summer workers from Memorial Day through Labor Day, a stretch that lasts for more than 90 days.
The Senate version also exempts employees who work less than 12 hours per week, instead of eight hours.
Each chamber has to pass the same version of the bill by the end of the General Assembly session on April 10 for it to become law.
Last year, the House of Delegates passed a sick leave bill, but the measure stalled in the same Senate committee.
Advocates who have been pressing for a sick leave law for five years were optimistic after the Finance Committee's vote.The Working Matters Coalition, which has been lobbying for the bill, issued a statement that said: "With this critical vote, Maryland families are now closer than ever to making earned paid sick days a reality."
Lobbyists for several business groups attempted to get the Senate committee to adopt scores of changes to the bill to ease what would be required of employers, but the amendments were largely struck down. The committee spent eight hours over the course of the week considering changes to the bill.
Sen. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican, said he had hoped to "somehow make this bill a little business-friendly" but was disappointed that wasn't the case. He voted against the bill in committee.
During 40 minutes of debate in the House of Delegates, several Republicans said mandatory sick leave would harm businesses, lead to job losses and deter investment in the state.
"This will be the nail in the coffin for some Maryland small businesses," said Del. Nic Kipke, an Anne Arundel County Republican who is the House minority leader.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Carroll County Republican, invoked the saying that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." He suggested that if that's true, the sick leave bill might qualify as a "superhighway."
Democrats countered that requiring sick leave is an important policy to protect public health and struggling families. Del. Dereck Davis, a cosponsor of the bill, said 800,000 people will be helped by being able to stay home from work while sick and not having to worry about losing pay or their jobs.
"At some point in our lives, either we or our loved ones are going to get sick or be a victim of domestic violence and when that time comes, we need to be able to take a step back and take care of ourselves," the Prince George's County Democrat said.
Hogan proposed his own sick leave bill this year, requiring companies with 50 or more workers to provide paid leave and offering a tax credit for smaller companies. Lawmakers held public hearings on the bill but have not acted on it.
Hogan still supports his own bill, said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor.
"The legislative process is still underway and we encourage the Senate to adopt something much closer to the governor's common sense proposal," Chasse said in a statement.