Maryland workers need paid sick leave, not another study

When Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the General Assembly’s paid sick leave bill last May, he announced the creation of a task force to “better understand access to paid leave policies.”

Here’s the issue: what the governor is suggesting has already been done. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked diligently and continuously with all stakeholders, including advocates, businesses and my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle to craft the Healthy Working Families Act (HB1). For two years, I personally reached out to Governor Hogan to join these conversations – and the governor and members of his administration never accepted the offer to meet with us.

Since then, Governor Hogan’s so-called task force has gone nowhere fast. The Department of Labor’s “Committee on Paid Leave Policy” is shrouded in secrecy – and none of my colleagues in the House and Senate have been notified of any meetings or progress on this issue. Governor Hogan’s decision to veto HB1 disappointed and shattered the dreams of tens of thousands of working families – and his so-called Committee on Paid Leave Policy is meant to distract us from his veto of the common sense bill we have right in front of us.

The fact is, we do not need yet another task force to tell us what we already know: that when it comes to supporting their families and taking care of their health, Marylanders are getting the short end of the stick.

We already know that 750,000 hardworking Marylanders do not have the ability to take time off when they are sick. We heard from families across the state facing impossible choices, like whether to send a sick child to school or daycare or risk losing wages, or worse, their jobs. We know that without earned paid sick days, families are more likely to go to work sick and delay needed medical care, leading to prolonged illnesses and costly emergency room visits. For seniors, one sick caregiver can jeopardize the health of their entire nursing home or leave their adult children without the workplace flexibility to care for their aging parents when they need them.

And we know that without earned sick days, we were putting the health and economic well-being of our communities at risk – because when one worker is forced to come to work with the flu, we are putting workers as well as employees and customers in harm’s way, especially seniors, children and people with chronic health problems. Earned sick days are also crucial to reducing staff turnover – studies show that earned sick days would lead to $132 million in savings for Maryland businesses.

The Working Families Act passed with veto-proof majorities because it’s the right thing to do for Maryland families. At its heart, this bill is about family and fairness. It’s about ensuring that we have fair workplace policies that provide everyone an opportunity to get ahead. It’s no wonder earned sick leave is such a popular idea around our state – in fact, a 2015 University of Maryland-Washington Post poll found that more than eight in 10 voters believe hard work should be respected and people should be able to earn paid sick days based on the number of hours they work.

After five long years of debate and working across the aisle to create a true common sense law, the Healthy Working Families Act is just within our reach. By overriding his veto, Maryland legislators have the opportunity to give hardworking Marylanders the peace of mind that comes with knowing that one bout of flu or a sick child won’t cost them their job or that month’s rent. It is time to enact a meaningful piece of legislation and safeguard the health and economic future of millions of families, seniors and hardworking Marylanders across the state.

As elected officials, Governor Hogan and I already have access to earned paid sick days. Don’t all Marylanders deserve that same opportunity?

Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, a Southern Maryland Democrat, is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. His email is thomas.mclain.middleton@senate.state.md.us.

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