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Maryland sick leave bill gains new momentum on final day of session

Senators began taking the final steps Monday to pass a law that would require bosses to grant sick leave to their employees, as the final hours wound down on the final day of the Maryland General Assembly session.

A version of the bill already cleared the House of Delegates, but had remained bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee. As recently as last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the bill's passage was not likely, and that the issue would be revisited next year.

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Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas "Mac" Middleton said Monday he would provide the necessary vote to approve a revised version of the bill out of his committee. It would then head to the full Senate, where 24 of 47 senators are cosponsors. The House of Delegates would have to sign off on the Senate's changes.

Melissa Broome of the Job Opportunities Task Force, a Baltimore nonprofit that advocates for low-wage workers, acknowledged getting the bill through all of the necessary approvals would be a difficult task -- but not impossible.

"This will be a Sine Die miracle if everything pans out," she said, using the Latin term for the final day of the session.

The version of the bill backed by Middleton requires companies with at least 15 employees to allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, to a minimum total of 40 hours -- or five days -- per year. That's a change from 56 hours (seven days) in the original bill.

Companies with fewer employees would have to offer the same amount of unpaid leave.

The bill has exemptions for employees younger than 18 and for seasonal employees who work fewer than 90 days in a 12-month period.

Middleton said the changes made him comfortable enough to throw his support behind the bill. Five senators on the 11-member committee are already sponsors of the bill, so Middleton's vote would give the measure enough votes to keep it moving through the process.

"I had concerns with the way the bill was earlier," Middleton said. He worked over the past few days with the House of Delegates sponsor of the bill, Del. Luke Clippinger of Baltimore, on the changes.

"I think the bill makes sense," Middleton said.

The bill has been opposed by groups including the National Federation of Independent Businesses and the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

As Finance Committee members discussed the bill early Monday afternoon, the hearing room was packed with dozens of advocates and lobbyists representing both sides of the issue. Committee members couldn't technically vote on the bill until a procedural move could take place in the full Senate, which was set to reconvene at 3:15 p.m.

Middleton said he planned to take Finance Committee members off of the Senate floor during that session to take their committee vote and advance the bill through the process.

The General Assembly adjourns at midnight Monday.

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