Despite Hogan veto threat, Maryland Senate approves paid sick time proposal

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Hogan threatened to veto paid sick time. The Senate approved a paid sick time plan with a veto-proof vote.

A day after Gov. Larry Hogan promised to veto it, the Maryland Senate approved a mandatory paid sick time bill by a veto-proof margin.

The margin of passage sets up another political confrontation with the Republican governor, who on Wednesday described the Senate's plan as "terrible" and said it and a similar proposal advanced by House of Delegates were "dead on arrival."

The Senate proposal, passed Thursday with only Democrats voting in favor, would require companies with more than 15 workers to offer five days of paid sick leave per year, with an exception for seasonal employees. Smaller firms must offer the same amount of leave, but unpaid.

The House of Delegates approved paid sick-time legislation this month that would mandate seven days a year and called for seasonal workers to be defined as those who work fewer than 90 days, not 106 as the Senate proposed. The House also passed its bill by a veto-proof margin, 88-51.

The two chambers must reconcile the differences before sending one plan to the governor.

Hogan said Wednesday he supported the concept of paid sick time, but wanted the state's policy to reflect legislation he proposed this year. The governor's bill would make sick time optional for companies with fewer than 50 workers, but would offer those small businesses up to $60 million in annual tax breaks as an incentive to provide sick leave.

His legislation has not received a committee vote, and he declined to say Wednesday what a compromise would look like.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, greeted by cheering sick-leave advocates in the State House, ribbed the governor for his remark that Democrats' paid sick-leave bills would be "dead on arrival."

"It's not quite dead. It's alive and well," the Calvert County Democrat said.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said Thursday the Senate's proposal "is not common sense and will directly threaten Maryland small businesses and jobs.

"There is still time for the legislature to come together with the governor and pass a bill that will provide needed benefits for hardworking Marylanders without hurting our small-business job creators," she said in a statement.

Democrats who supported the bill said the minimum requirements would help working families who could be forced to choose between taking care of a loved one or losing pay or a job.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George's County Democrat, told his colleagues about how his mother urged him as a child to get a job with good benefits. She often coated herself with Vicks VapoRub to ward off symptoms of illness, he said.

When, as an adult, Ramirez asked her why she did that, he said she told him, "There were times when I wish I could stay home, but I couldn't."

Republicans emphasized that voting against the proposal was not a mark against their character, but rooted in a belief that smaller companies cannot afford the mandate.

"You're not a bad person if you vote against this bill," said Minority Whip Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., an Eastern Shore Republican who voted against it.

Republican Sen. Justin Ready of Carroll County said the mandate would exacerbate income inequality, because it would increase costs for small businesses competing against corporations that already offer — and can afford — paid sick leave.

"This bill is great for corporate America," Ready said before voting against it. "They're already doing this."

The General Assembly has until April 10 to come to a compromise on paid sick leave.

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