Gov. Larry Hogan moved Tuesday to avoid an override of the paid-sick-leave measure he vetoed last spring, vowing to introduce new legislation he presented as an alternative to a “horrendous” bill.
The Republican governor said he would introduce a “compromise” version of a bill on the first day of the Democratic-dominated General Assembly’s annual 90-day session Jan. 10.
Hogan criticized the legislature for failing to take up the bill his administration put forward early this year as it became clear the Democrats were intent on passing legislation expanding access to sick leave. He said his measure would have been less “onerous” for employers.
“We preferred a carrot rather than a stick approach, rewarding rather than penalizing small business,” Hogan said.
The vetoed bill would require employers with 15 or more workers to let those who put in at least 12 hours a week earn up to five days a year of paid leave to use when they are sick or experiencing family crises, including domestic violence. Democrats estimate the legislation would give 700,000 workers access to such leave that do not have it now, but a task force appointed by Hogan put the number at fewer than half that.
The governor vetoed the bill in May, contending that it took a punitive approach rather than relying on incentives. He predicted the legislation could force many small businesses to close their doors.
As he did in his previous bill, Hogan takes a fundamentally different approach to leave than the Democrats. Where the legislature specified that earned leave be used for sickness or family emergencies such as domestic violence, the governor proposes that employers be required to let employees earn “paid time off” without restrictions on why it is used.
Assembly Democrats, who contend the Hogan administration refused to negotiate as they developed their legislation, used their super-majorities in the House and Senate to pass their bill by margins large enough to override a veto if there are no defections.
Lawmakers designated by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller to respond expressed scorn for the governor’s approach.
“We’re going to override the governor’s veto,” said Del. Luke H. Clippinger, the Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House.
Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, who led a years-long effort effort on behalf of Senate Democrats to craft a bill, dismissed the governor’s proposed alternative as “another stall tactic to getting a good piece of legislation through.”
“It’s time to move on, get the bill passed and give the citizens of this state what they expect and want and give working families that don’t have paid sick leave what they deserve,” the Charles County Democrat said.
Middleton indicated he is open to a discussion with the administration about companion legislation Hogan announced that would provide $100 million in tax credits to employers that provide a wide variety of benefits including sick leave, child care and tuition assistance.
Hogan deflected a question on how he would offset the cost of those credits, saying he would address that when he releases his budget in January.
Middleton said he likes the idea of such tax credits but that “the devil’s in the details.”
“If you’re going to give a tax credit, that’s going to mean less income coming in,” he said.
The battle over sick leave is shaping up as one of the most contentious political clashes of the coming election year session. It has been marked by charges of bad faith and refusal to negotiate on both sides.
“They chose to play politics to make an election year issue,” Hogan said at Tuesday’s State House news conference.
The governor’s bill appears to be an attempt to lure at least one Democratic senator out of the camp of those poised to override the veto. The vetoed bill passed the Senate with 29 votes — the minimum needed to override.
Hogan said that in the “spirit of true compromise and collaboration,” his new legislation will use the vetoed bill as a starting point and would require businesses with 25 or more employees to phase in benefits over three years.
The governor said that to give small employers time to prepare, his legislation would apply to businesses with 50 or more workers starting next year. It would then go to 40 or more in 2019 and 25 in 2020.
Hogan said he has taken a more progressive approach to the sick leave issue than other Republican governors — and the legislation he outlined Tuesday appears to have moved in the direction of the Democrats in some areas.
The governor’s “compromise” went too far to the left for one usually staunch ally, the National Federation of Independent Business.
Mike O’Halloran, the group’s Maryland state director, said Hogan’s proposal fails to acknowledge “that employers and employees know best what works for them, not the government.”
One argument being advanced by the Hogan administration and Republican lawmakers to block the vetoed bill is their contention that it would unfairly force victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse who want to claim paid leave to reveal private information about their problems to their employers. A draft of the Hogan legislation released by the Governor’s Office includes language adding privacy protections that are not in the vetoed bill.
Some leading advocates for domestic violence and sexual assault victims rejected that interpretation of the measure.
Lisae C. Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the bill “will give survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence rights they don’t have now.” She said some victims may choose not to take earned sick leave because they don’t want to tell their employers about the abuse but that other will welcome the option to disclose if it means they can take paid leave.