Hogan vetoes Maryland Democrats' paid sick leave bill

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday vetoed legislation that would have required employers with more than 15 workers to allow them to earn paid sick leave, setting up a potential veto override fight when state lawmakers return to Annapolis later this year or next.

The Republican governor blamed the Democrat-dominated General Assembly for rejecting what he called his "common-sense" bill that would have created incentives for employers to offer sick leave. Instead, they passed a measure he said would force small businesses to lay off employees or shut their doors.

"I cannot and will not support this jobs-killing bill passed by the legislature," Hogan said.

Del. Luke Clippinger, the lead sponsor of the bill, said he was "deeply disappointed" but not surprised.

"He just vetoed sick leave for 700,000 Marylanders who are trying to work their way out of poverty," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Hogan's veto of the sick-leave bill might not be his last this year. He has until Saturday to announce what he will do with the estimated 130 bills passed by the legislature that that he hasn't yet signed. He can veto those bills or allow them to become law without his signature.

The governor declined to say whether there would be any more vetoes but hinted more may be coming.

At a State House news conference, Hogan said he is still committed to policies that would extend sick leave to more Maryland workers. He issued an executive order creating a study of all aspects of the sick-leave issue, drawing on the views of a wide variety of groups, including advocates of the legislature's bill.

Hogan said he would instruct the group conducting the study to report its finding by December so his administration can submit emergency legislation to replace the legislature's bill when it convenes in January for its annual 90-day session.

"We still have plenty of time to work together to make this right," he said. Hogan said lawmakers could avoid significant delay in implementing a paid sick-leave law by passing an emergency bill, which would go into effect as soon as the governor signed it.

Legislative leaders also have the option of seeking to override Hogan's veto of the bill they passed. But Hogan said he would work between now and then to persuade lawmakers who voted for the measure to oppose an override.

"We're hoping that over the next year, we'll be able to talk some common sense into those folks," the governor said.

Some lawmakers have called on the governor to declare a special session of the legislature be convened this summer to adjust the state's medical marijuana laws. If that session were convened, the legislature would be obligated to address Hogan's veto at that time. The governor has said he would call a special session only if both houses of the legislature agreed on how to change the state's medical marijuana policies, which are the subject of lawsuits.

The sick-leave bill passed by veto-proof margins in both houses, but the Senate approved it with just 29 votes — the minimum needed to overturn a veto.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said overriding the veto will be a priority for the legislature in January.

"We carefully balanced the impact on small businesses by specifically exempting businesses with less than 15 employees from the legislation," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said.

Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, who as chairman of the Finance Committee led efforts to draft the bill, said the administration repeatedly refused to meet with lawmakers to work out a compromise this year. Now Middleton has no interest in a task force.

"It's a good piece of legislation," the Charles County Democrat said. "We have enough votes in the House and the Senate to override the governor's veto, and that's where I am." The veteran lawmaker acknowledged, however, that "the governor's got a lot at his disposal" in bargaining for votes.

In addition to launching the study, Hogan issued two other executive orders Thursday. One will extend paid sick leave to an estimated 8,000 contractual employees of the executive branch of state government. The other will give employers that offer paid sick leave a preference in seeking contracts to do business with state government.

The governor challenged the leaders of the legislature and the judiciary to "join the administration in leading by example" by extending the same benefits to contractual workers in their branches of government.

Middleton said contractual government employees would have been covered by the bill Hogan vetoed.

As passed by the legislature, the sick-leave bill would require employers with 15 or more workers to allow those who put in at least 12 hours a week to earn up to five days a year of paid sick leave. Lawmakers added a minimum number of days that employees must work to qualify in order to exempt seasonal workers, such as summer staff in Ocean City.

Clippinger said the bill also would provide unpaid leave for workers at companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Hogan's bill, which never moved out of committee, relied on tax incentives to coax employers into offering sick-leave benefits.

The legislature and Hogan have been wrangling about sick leave with little respite since the governor submitted his proposal last December. Legislative leaders, who had been working on sick-leave legislation since a similar proposal stalled in the 2016 session, said Hogan sprung his proposal on them without involving legislative leaders, advocates or businesses that would be affected. They also complained that the governor hadn't explained how the state would make up the $60 million in lost annual revenue from the tax breaks in his bill.

House and Senate leaders quickly discarded Hogan's proposal and worked off the version that lawmakers developed in the months leading up to the session. It passed on the strength of Democratic votes alone.

Business groups and liberal advocacy groups split over the veto.

Mike O'Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said his small-business members "could not be prouder to have Larry Hogan as our governor."

"He has declared to our small-business community that his advocacy efforts on their behalf and his dedication to drastically reducing regulations that hinder job growth and economic progress is and will continue to be his primary focus in making Maryland more business-friendly," O'Halloran said.

Justin Vest of Progressive Maryland released a statement comparing Hogan to Republican President Donald J. Trump.

"Hogan has repeatedly tried to distance himself from Donald Trump and national Republicans, but his actions speak louder than words," Vest said. "By vetoing paid sick leave legislation, he shows he is just as calloused as Trump and the Republicans trying to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans."

But Hogan called the legislation "far too broad and far too ambiguous."

Asked why it took him until just before the Saturday deadline to veto a bill he long ago said he couldn't support, Hogan answered with a quip:

"I said it was dead on arrival. It arrived. It's now dead."

mdresser@baltsun.com

twitter.com/michaeltdresser

Hogan's final 2017 bill-signing

Gov. Larry Hogan signed 209 bills Thursday at the last such ceremony scheduled this year. Among them:

Heroin and opioids

A package of bills included measures increasing the penalties for selling the deadly heroin additive fentanyl and restricting the amount of opioid painkillers a physician can prescribe. Other measures would increase addiction education and treatment services, and improve access to the life-saving overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

Domestic violence

Amber's Law, a bill that allows domestic violence victims to ask a judge to require accused abusers to wear a GPS-tracking device to monitor compliance with protective orders.

Baltimore schools

The new law will return the power to appoint city school board members to the mayor of Baltimore after 20 years of sharing it with the governor under a previous agreement.

Procurement reform

A package of bills proposed by the governor and others are intended to modernize the system under which the state purchases billions of dollars of goods and services from outside vendors. One bill raises the bar for what is considered a small procurement. Another seeks to increase participation of small and minority businesses, while a third creates the office of chief procurement officer in state government and consolidates most contracting in the Department of General Services.

Bees

A bill hailed by advocates as the first of its kind nationally is meant to protect bees and other pollinators on state land from exposure to dangerous pesticides.

Sexual abuse

The statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a minor in civil cases will be extended from seven years after the victim reaches adulthood to 20 years.

Marriage and divorce

One bill will make it easier for an individual getting a divorce to resume use of their previous last name. Another increases the amount of money going to the surviving spouse when the husband or wife dies intestate from the first $15,000 to the first $40,000.

—Michael Dresser

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