The Maryland Senate voted Friday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick-leave to hundreds of thousands of Maryland workers.
The legislation, which was approved by the House of Delegates on Thursday, becomes law in 30 days unless the General Assembly acts to delay its implementation — something Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he’s willing to do.
Hogan put up a vigorous fight to pick off a few Democrats in each chamber to sustain his veto. His efforts fell short, however.
The Senate voted 30-17 for the override. That was one more vote than the bill received in the Senate last year.
Sen. Bobby Zirkin, a Baltimore County Democrat who opposed the bill last year, switched his vote to support the override.
After the vote, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse issued a statement urging lawmakers to change the bill they just passed to bring it closer to the “compromise” bill the governor had offered as an alternative.
"Now that this political posturing is over, it's time for the legislature to get down to the business of fixing the serious flaws in this bill that Senator [Thomas M. “Mac”] Middleton and numerous others openly acknowledged,” Chasse said. “Given their own admission that [the bill] will hurt small businesses, we urge legislators to fast-track the governor’s Small Business Relief Tax Credit to ensure employers aren’t forced to close their doors and lay off their employees.”
Middleton, the Charles County Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, said his panel would hold a hearing on the governor’s alternative bill and would be happy to work with Hogan in considering changes to the legislation that just passed. However, he said Chasse’s statement is a “completely inaccurate” characterization of his views.
“Find one place where I said this bill as amended is flawed,” he said. “This bill in my opinion does not hurt the business community.”
The small-business relief bill Chasse referred to would extend tax credits to some of the employers required to provide sick leave benefits. Middleton said the Senate would consider the proposal.
After the sick-leave override vote, senators overrode another Hogan veto Friday. By a 32-15 vote, they voted to enact a bill barring colleges and universities from asking about arrests and convictions on initial application forms.
Proponents of the “ban the box” legislation said it would remove a barrier deterring people with criminal records from even applying to college.
Opponents, echoing Hogan’s veto message, said the measure could endanger students on campus by permitting violent offenders, including rapists, into their midst.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat who was the bill’s Senate sponsor, said the law only applies to the initial application. She said colleges and universities remain free to ask about arrests and convictions at later stages of the admission process and to deny entry to applicants they believe pose a danger.
Another Hogan spokeswoman, Shareese N. Churchill, said the override would “make college campuses less safe.”
“The governor believes in second chances for nonviolent offenders, but making it easier for violent criminals to be admitted to our colleges is irresponsible and dangerous,” she said. “Today’s vote also showed a blatant disregard for victims’ rights at a time when we are having a national conversation about protecting and empowering victims of sexual assault and harassment."
The sick-leave bill was the single most politically charged issue left over from the 2017 legislative session. It pitted progressive groups and some labor unions against business groups in a six-year struggle that culminated in Friday’s vote.
The legislation allows workers at companies with 15 workers or more to earn up to five days a year of paid sick leave, which they could also use for such matters as going to court to obtain a protective order against domestic violence or dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. Proponents said it would benefit about 700,000 Maryland workers. The administration estimated it would help fewer than half that number.
Hogan staked out a progressive position compared with other Republican governors. He backed legislation encouraging companies to set up plans for employees to earn paid leave — not necessarily tied to illness or emergencies — and offered tax credits to help subsidize employers that did so.
Democratic leaders objected to various aspects of the governor’s bill, however, and said he never explained how he would offset the revenue lost from granting $100 million in tax credits over five years. Democrats also complained that Hogan declined their invitations to sit down with them and with advocates for sick leave to hammer out a consensus bill.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said that when lawmakers were hammering out the details of the bill, Hogan was “nowhere to be found.”
Arguing for the override, Middleton said his committee adopted dozens of amendments intended to cushion the impact the original bill would have had on business.
Senate Republicans, however, said the terms of the bill were onerous. Sen. Wayne Norman of Harford and Cecil counties said that as an employer, he would have trouble complying.
“I’m going to lose some employees if this passes. I’m just not going to do it,” Norman said. “The governor’s bill would have given me some tax credits, and as a businessman that’s important to me.”
Some business groups were also disgruntled.
Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, issued a statement saying his group is “thoroughly disappointed the legislature chose to ignore the warnings from the small-business community.”
“Despite being educated on the disastrous results that this one-size-fits-all mandate will have on Maryland jobs and economic output, the legislature opted for another harmful policy that has more red tape, more record-keeping, and devastating sanctions,” O’Halloran said.
But a labor union leader welcomed the vote.
"Marylanders no longer have to choose between losing pay and caring for themselves or a loved one because House and Senate leaders overcame Hogan's political rancor,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union regional unit that includes Maryland. “Voters will remember on Election Day that Hogan was on the wrong side of history on matters of life and death for working people."
Under Maryland’s constitution, an over-riden bill becomes law 30 days after the final vote. Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, said that isn’t enough time for affected businesses.
“Now they have to come up to speed on something they don’t understand yet,” he said.
Middleton said he’s willing to consider legislation that would extend the effective date to 90 days for the purposes of letting the administration write regulations and to delay any penalties. He said he’d rather not delay the date employees can start accruing benefits.
Miller said Hogan’s version of the sick-leave bill and his tax credit legislation will get hearings.
“I hope the governor comes down and testifies on them,” the Senate president said, underscoring his contention that Hogan should become more involved in pushing his legislation.
Miller escaped a possible political thicket with Zirkin’s switch. Otherwise he would have had to depend on Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks, who is under federal indictment, to reach the 29 votes needed to override. Hogan had argued the Baltimore Democrat should not have been seated this session, and administration officials were poised to attack had Oaks provided what could have been seen as the decisive vote.
Oaks did vote to override. Miller has taken the position that he deserves due process before any disciplinary action.
Zirkin said he talked with Middleton before the vote and was persuaded that the Charles County senator was open to making revisions in the sick-leave program through new legislation. Among the changes Zirkin would like to see is a hardship waiver for certain small businesses.
Zirkin rejected the contention of some Democrats that it was too late to consider Hogan’s proposal.