By Daniel Menefee
Five years in the making, the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday passed a widely supported but controversial paid sick leave bill, HB1, which Gov. Larry Hogan has vowed to veto.
Democratic lawmakers are promising an override at the start of the 2018 session, saying they will defend the rights of 700,000 Marylanders to take paid sick leave without fear of losing their jobs.
As the votes went up on the tally board , the bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore City Democrat, lauded the efforts of fellow delegates and called on Gov. Hogan to sign the bill. A broad coalition of unions and progressive groups supported the bill.
“This has been five years… a lot of people have worked very hard to come to the day when nearly 700,000 Marylanders will be able determine they can take the day off to get better as opposed to losing their jobs…I certainly call on this governor to sign this bill when it comes to his desk.”
The bill cleared the House of Delegates by a veto proof majority, 87-53, concurring with Senate amendments and avoiding the need for a conference committee so close to the end of session – which Clippinger wanted to avoid. There were no votes to spare in case of a veto when the Senate passed the measure 29-18 Monday.
With the 90-day session over next Monday, the legislature cannot send it to Hogan for action, as it did with 27 other bills last week.
If successfully overridden in 2018, the sick leave bill requires companies with 15 or more workers to offer 40 hours of annual paid sick leave. Part-time employees working only twelve hours a week would accrue paid sick leave under the mandate.
The bill originally had offered seven sick days. Any business that currently offers five days of flexible paid leave, whether vacation or sick, complies with the bill.
A job killer, business groups say
The bill saw strong opposition from business interests during the session as a “job killer” and a “debilitating mandate” on small businesses struggling to stay afloat.
Mike O’Halloran, Maryland’s director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the Democratic majority had failed to consider bipartisan input.
“If implemented this bill would cost thousands of jobs, a majority of which would disappear from small businesses,” O’Halloran said soon after the House vote. “[More] than a dozen reasonable and responsible amendments were offered to lawmakers to help Maryland small businesses mitigate the impact of this mandate. Unfortunately, although these changes were supported in a bipartisan manner, the legislature chose not to listen to the pleas from Maryland’s job creators.”
Clippinger’s bill overshadowed a competing bill offered by Hogan at the beginning of the session that would require companies with 50 or more employees to provide 40 hours of annual paid sick leave, as most already do.
Hogan’s plan also budgeted $60 million in tax incentives for smaller companies with 50 or less employees that offered paid leave.
But even support among Republicans was tepid at the start of the session because of mandates on businesses.
Three Democrats opposed
While passage was mostly along party lines, several Democrats voted against the bill because of the impact on small businesses.
“I was concerned this bill was going to hurt the businesses in my district,” said Del. Ned Carey, D-Anne Arundel. “I heard from many that they may have to close their doors or lay people off to get below 15 employees…this could mean the loss of jobs.”
“Many of the businesses in my district are just scraping by and there are times business owners go without a paycheck,” Carey said.
“I don’t have a lot of big businesses in my district, most are mom and pop businesses that can’t afford to offer paid sick leave,” Carey said in interview. “Businesses with 15 or 16 employees will be forced to rethink their staff levels and consider letting some people go.”
Eric Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, grew up in the restaurant businesses working alongside his brothers and mother at The Bromwell Inn in Overlea. He said the family originally lived above the restaurant and “put everything they made back into it.”
“Small business is a part of who I am and how I grew up,” he said. He said his mother very much wanted to offer paid sick leave and health insurance but could never afford it. “It’s a very delicate balance between helping the employees or hurting the business.”
He said this was especially true for family owned restaurants, which would have trouble staffing shifts during the holidays.
“If you have people who’ve accrued sick leave throughout the year it will become a lot harder than it already is to cover shifts during the holidays,” he said.
Del. C.T. Wilson, D-Charles, also voted against the bill, as did four Senate Democrats. Sen. Ed DeGrange, Anne Arundel and three from Baltimore County, Jim Brochin, Kathy Klausmeier and Bobby Zirkin.
Some businesses support it
Not all small businesses opposed the bill.
Clifton Broumand, founder and CEO of Man & Machine, a company that produces waterproof computer keyboards, said the talk of onerous regulations was “a side issue.”
As a small business job creator, he said his biggest asset was his employees.
“If my employees can’t take care of themselves, they can’t be efficient for me,” he said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 10.
“The main issue here is providing paid sick leave,” he said. “There can be a way, and all of you have the opportunity to figure out a way that everyone can have paid sick leave in Maryland.”
Broumand said he provides 15 days of leave annually for his employees, and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
He said passage of the bill would level the playing field.
“The concept of a level playing field is an honorable thing for everybody,” he said. “If I’m doing this, everyone else should have to.”