House overrides Hogan veto on sick leave; Miller predicts 'battle' in Senate

The question of whether hundreds of thousands of Maryland workers will be entitled to paid sick leave is in the hands of the Senate after the House of Delegates voted Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill requiring all but the smallest employers to provide that benefit.

A Senate vote could occur as early as Friday.

The House voted 88-52, three votes more than the minimum to override, largely along party lines.

The Senate last year passed the bill with 29 votes, the minimum needed to override. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, has said it will be a “battle” in his chamber but has predicted he will keep the votes to override.

The bill would require employers with more than 15 full-time workers to allow them to earn up to five days of sick pay a year. Its sponsors estimate that as many as 700,000 Maryland workers would benefit, though the Hogan administration has suggested the number is fewer than half that.

The legislation has the staunch support of progressive groups and organized labor. Its advocates argue that working families need sick leave benefits so they don’t lose pay when they are sick or have to tend to an ailing family member. The legislation also allows use of the earned days for victims of sexual assault or domestic violence to go to court or seek counseling.

Business groups contend the legislation interferes with their discretion in providing benefits to their workers. Backed by most Republicans, businesses also argue the bill’s record-keeping provisions are burdensome and that the enforcement mechanism is tacked against them.

Since he vetoed the bill after the last session, Hogan, a Republican, has mounted a determined campaign to peel off a few Democratic votes to sustain his veto.

Among other things, the governor proposed what he called a compromise bill. By 2020, it would give businesses with 25 or fewer workers incentives to provide paid leave, subsidized by $100 million in tax credits over five years.

Meanwhile, backed by 12 Republican women legislators, Hogan also suggested the bill he vetoed would violate the privacy of victims of sexual assault by requiring them to make intrusive disclosures to their employers to qualify for sick leave.

Neither approach worked in the House, where only two Democrats joined all 50 Republicans in voting to uphold the veto.

Hogan press secretary Shareese N. Churchill issued a statement calling the House vote "largely a political exercise.”

“Fortunately, there is plenty of time to pass the governor’s compromise legislation, including the incentives for small businesses, and create a paid leave policy that provides needed benefits to workers while protecting our job creators,” Churchill said. “Marylanders are more interested in good policy than partisan politics and there is still time to get this right."

During a sharp debate that preceded Thursday’s vote, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga said the vetoed bill was “overly prescriptive” in its approach. “It just goes too far, and there is a better way to deal with this.”

Szeliga raised the question of privacy, pointing to a section of the bill that in some cases allows employers to ask employees seeking to use multiple days of sick leave to explain why.

“The documentation required goes the wrong way in protecting the privacy of people who are the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence,” said Szeliga, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a Baltimore Democrat who said she suffered “horrible” abuse during her first marriage, urged colleagues to override the veto. She said the bill would give victims access to sick leave they don’t have now.

“We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good when we look at this issue,” Glenn said.

Del. Kathleen Dumais, a Montgomery County Democrat, noted that the bill has the support of women’s rights advocacy groups including the Maryland Women’s Law Center and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said Republicans “get it” and agree that employees should get sick leave.

But he said the Democrats are taking the wrong approach.

“There’s a better way to go about this by providing incentives to small business,” the Anne Arundel County Republican said. He also said the bill should include hardship waivers for small startup businesses.

House sponsor Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat, urged colleagues to resist calls to go back to the drawing board. He said proponents had made 42 different compromises over the years to make the bill more palatable to business.

“It’s time. It’s time right now,” he said. “Seven hundred thousand Marylanders know it’s time.”

After the sick leave bill, the House followed up by overriding a second veto. By a party-line 90-50 vote, delegates sent the so-called “ban the box” bill for college campuses to the Senate for a final vote.

Hogan contended that by preventing colleges and universities from asking up front about past convictions or incarceration, the legislation puts the safety of students at risk.

“This is the wrong climate for this bill. It goes too far. It contains unintended consequences,” said Del. Haven Shoemaker, a Carroll County Republican. He argued the bill should distinguish between nonviolent and violent crimes.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the governor’s veto message was “eloquent” but ignored the many amendments added to the bill at the request of colleges and universities.

“No college, no university asked the governor to veto this bill,” the Baltimore Democrat said. “They were satisfied with the bill at the end of the last session.”

McIntosh said the bill was part of a national movement to make it easier for people who have been incarcerated to rebuild their lives.

She said nothing in the measure prevents colleges from screening out dangerous offenders at later stages in the admissions process. But it does bar colleges from automatically barring admission only because of a criminal history.

“We’re giving college campuses the ability to protect their students,” McIntosh said.

Churchill said the House vote shows that many legislators are out of touch with the concerns of parents and students about safety on college campuses.

“This bill puts our students at risk and inexplicably doesn’t differentiate between repeat violent sex offenders and a possession charge,” Churchill said. “Campus violence and sexual assault are real problems and this bill takes us in the wrong direction."

ecox@baltsun.com

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