By Dan Menefee
As the very first piece of legislation, Democrat lawmakers have reintroduced the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, the paid sick leave bill, which passed the House in a party line vote last year but failed to move in the Senate.
This year’s House bill, HB01, will compete with a measure recently announced by Gov. Larry Hogan. But some Republican lawmakers are not enthusiastic about Hogan’s compromise, even though it is less burdensome to businesses than the House bill.
“I’m realistic,” House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke said in an interview. “I believe the House is going to pass a very onerous requirement on employers this year and this initiative by Governor Hogan does the best job we can do to protect those employers that are vulnerable to the unintended consequences” of the House bill.
“Maryland has layer after layer of regulations, extremely high taxes — and when you add all these things up Maryland becomes a very difficult place to do business,”
Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, said he personally knew of businesses that were avoiding Maryland and anchoring in Virginia and Delaware where the business climate is “more profitable.”
“These are not typical red states like Alabama — they’re just more business friendly,” he said. “The risk is lower in these states and the return on investment is higher.”
Outnumbered by pressure from Montgomery
“I’d rather have no law at all,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. “I believe that government gets in the way of creating jobs but I’m realistic and we know we are outnumbered. The Democrats have been bringing this issue up year after year and eventually they’re going to pass something. The governor’s bill is a reasonable compromise.”
She said recent enactment of a sick leave law in Montgomery County has put even more pressure on the Democrat majority to pass a bill of their own. Montgomery County’s paid sick leave law went into effect in October.
Under Hogan’s plan, employers with more than 50 workers would be required to offer up to 40 hours per year of sick leave — and allow workers to roll over up to 40 hours a year. The House bill sponsored by Dels. Luke Clippinger and Dereck Davis requires accrual of sick pay for companies with just 15 or more workers.
Hogan’s bill would preempt local action like Montgomery County.
Szeliga said larger companies with more than 50 employees would not feel the pinch as much under Hogan’s plan because larger companies normally offer some form of paid sick leave.
“I don’t know a company with over 50 employees that doesn’t offer paid time off,” she said.
She said Hogan’s plan gives employers with less than 50 workers tax incentives to offer sick leave while the House bill does not.
Hogan’s plan ‘most palatable’
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings echoed the sentiments of Kipke and Szeliga and said he opposed the sick leave bill in prior years.
“But like anything you find in Annapolis, Democrats keep putting the bill in year after year and they slowly wear everybody down until it gets to the point where you have to come up with a compromise so the issue doesn’t go too far left.”
“I’m not saying I’m on board with the governor’s bill,” Jennings said. “But of the two bills his is the most palatable and the least constrictive to businesses.”
Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, agreed that Hogan’s bill is “far more business friendly” but he would not support it if there is a “requirement” that employers offer paid sick leave.
“I understand the governor’s effort to be bipartisan and reach out to Democrats but both bills put an undue burden on businesses so I won’t be able to support either one,” he said.
He said neighboring states would become even more attractive for businesses with passage of either bill.
Parrott said his Washington County district borders states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, which have better business-friendly rankings with the non-partisan Tax Foundation.
“To put another mandate on companies is simply going to make it more difficult for employers to do business in the state,” Parrott said. “In these two bills Maryland is saying we’re going to pass another business mandate when companies are already not doing so well.”
Other GOP legislators who did not wish to be quoted agreed with Parrott and Kipke’s sentiments.
On Thursday, Senate President Mike Miller said he supported the House measure. Hogan’s plan he said would deny the benefit to many Marylanders who work for smaller companies.
“There are so many people in the workforce who would be left out of the Governor’s proposal,” Miller told MarylandReporter.com.