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Democrats' paid sick leave bill advances in Maryland House

A push to require Maryland companies to offer sick leave to workers is gaining momentum in the General Assembly, with the House of Delegates advancing the bill to a vote Friday.

The Democrat-led House rejected nine Republican amendments to the bill during 90 minutes of debate Wednesday, setting up the final House vote at the end of the week.

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"I believe we're going to move a bill and pass a bill this year," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who has sponsored the legislation for three years. The issue has been discussed in Annapolis for five years.

The bill would require companies with 15 or more employees to offer seven paid days of sick leave per year. Smaller companies would be required to offer the same amount of unpaid sick leave.

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Part-time workers would also earn sick leave based on the number of hours they work.

There are exceptions in the bill for those who work fewer than eight hours per week, those younger than 18 and those who work for fewer than 90 days.

In the state Senate, meanwhile, the Finance Committee is still considering the bill. The committee spent 21/2 hours discussing sick leave Monday, and members plan to continue work on the bill Friday.

The sick leave bill is moving through the legislature more quickly than last year, when it died on the final day of the 90-day General Assembly session. On March 1 last year, the bill was just getting its House committee hearing.

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Clippinger said the quicker pace means there's enough time to work out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill. Lawmakers have not taken action on another version of the sick leave bill backed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The governor's bill would require companies with 50 or more employees at a location to offer paid sick leave. Tax credits would be available for smaller companies that offer paid leave.

Democrats contend that their bill will mean that 720,000 more Maryland workers will get sick leave, while Hogan's bill would affect about 300,000 workers.

Several of the Republican amendments in the House attempted to incorporate parts of Hogan's proposal into the measure favored by Democrats. One failed amendment tried to turn the entire bill into Hogan's bill.

All failed by wide margins on party-line votes.

Republicans argued that mandating paid sick leave is a burden to employers and puts jobs at risk at companies that can't afford it. Republican delegates repeatedly said their amendments were common-sense fixes to the bill.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County spoke in favor of amendments to give tax breaks to small companies that offer sick leave. The tax breaks are essential to helping companies bear the cost of paying for sick leave, he said.

Otherwise, he said, "You are furthering a business climate in Maryland that is unhealthy."

Kipke said investors and entrepreneurs will look to open companies and invest their money in other states.

"They take their capital where they can make a return on it," he said.

Del. Kathy Afzali, a Frederick County Republican who sponsored two tax break amendments, said even though the tax breaks would cost the state money — one of her ideas would cost an estimated $60 million — helping both workers and employers is worth the price.

"Vote for people, not money," she said.

Other failed amendments would have given a tax break to companies that employ home health aides, extended the exemption for seasonal employees from 90 days to 120 days, limited the amount of damages awarded to workers when the company doesn't provide proper leave and required workers to have half of the cost of sick leave deducted from their paychecks.

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