Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday he will lobby the General Assembly to mandate paid sick leave at large companies, offering a proposal that puts his stamp on an issue long championed by Democrats.
Hogan said companies with at least 50 employees would be required to offer full-time workers five sick days per year. He said he will introduce his legislation when the Democrat-controlled legislature reconvenes next month.
The plan would allow smaller businesses to get up to $20,000 a year in tax deductions for offering paid sick time. That proposal would cost the state roughly $63 million a year, Hogan aides said.
Advocates for paid sick time welcomed the governor's support but said Hogan's plan fell short of what was needed to help the state's lowest-income workers. A small business group offered tepid praise.
Hogan, meanwhile, called his proposal "fair, balanced, common-sense and bipartisan."
The governor's initiative is less sweeping than one passed by the House of Delegates this year, which mandated seven sick days a year for companies with 15 employees or more and included benefits for part-time employees. Legislative analysts said that would have guaranteed sick leave to 500,000 workers who don't have it now.
The Hogan administration did not offer estimates of how many businesses and workers would be affected by its proposal.
Democrats have been working since April on legislation for next year, and bristled at the governor's preemptive alternative.
"This Christmas season, working families are getting a lump of coal," said Democratic Sen. Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton, who has been leading a study of the sick leave issue as chairman of the Finance Committee.
Paid sick leave is a popular policy idea in Maryland. Three-fourths of respondents in a 2015 Goucher Poll said they supported it for companies that employ 10 or more people.
Goucher College political scientist Mileah Kromer said Hogan is savvy in embracing a politically popular idea in a way that appeases the business community.
"This is ultimately a blue state, and Hogan has to balance the progressive values of Maryland with his business values," Kromer said. She said walking that line becomes more important as the 2018 election draws closer.
Hogan aides said he modeled his plan from a proposal made by the Augustine Commission, a panel convened by leading Democrats to recommend ways to improve the state's business economy.
"A strong majority of Marylanders want to see the state finally address this issue in a common sense way that benefits our workers while also protecting our small business job creators," he said.
Hogan said the 50-employee threshold mirrored the federal definition of small business and requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats said it would leave many workers behind.
Chuck Conner, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, called Hogan's proposal "very watered down compared to the bills we saw last year."
Baltimore Del. Luke Clippinger, a Democrat, who sponsored paid sick leave legislation in the House, said the provision for part-time workers is crucial.
"This bill, in my mind, is a way that we can help people work their way out of poverty," Clippinger said. "I'm happy that the governor is coming to the conversation. I wish it hadn't taken so long, but we're glad that he's here now."
A trade group representing small businesses offered lukewarm support for Hogan's proposal, characterizing it as a better alternative to what Democrats wanted.
"Any time a new mandate is introduced, it gives the small business community reason to be alarmed," Mike O'Halloran, Maryland state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement.
"That being said, we certainly appreciate the efforts by the administration to address concerns expressed by the business community when considering this proposal," he said. "If the legislature is intent on passing a paid sick leave bill, we hope they will consider the Governor's proposal as it provides much-needed protections for the small business community."
Some details of Hogan's proposal resemble a failed effort by House Minority Leader Nic Kipke to scale back paid sick leave legislation that advanced through the House this year.
Kipke's amendment failed on an 83-51 vote. It would have limited the mandate to companies with 50 employees in one location. Companies with 50 employees spread across multiple locations would have been exempted.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor's proposal would apply to companies with 50 employees, regardless of where they are located. Seasonal employees would be exempted.
Further details on the legislation were not released.
Hogan said he consulted legislative leaders and "most of them are thrilled with our proposal."
Hogan's proposal would override more expansive local laws, such as the mandated paid sick leave required in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County Councilman Tom Hucker said preempting his county's law could effect hundreds of thousands of workers that are guaranteed paid sick time or parental leave under local laws.
"That's a big deal," he said.
The governor said he sought consistency for businesses operating across the state.
"Any company that already has a leave policy that meets the requirements would not have to change anything, and the state would not interfere," Hogan said. "Our goal is to provide paid sick leave to more employees who need it, not to dictate or interfere with the polices of small businesses."
The General Assembly reconvenes in Annapolis on Jan. 11 for its annual 90-day legislative session.
Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.