Maryland would join the district and nine other states, including New Jersey, Washington and Massachusetts, which have created similar job protection programs. President Biden has campaigned to establish a federal paid family leave policy, bringing the country in line with other developed countries, but efforts have stalled on Capitol Hill.
In Annapolis, momentum began to build this year after the coronavirus pandemic put a premium on meeting the personal and family needs of healthcare workers and the impact on the workforce when these needs are not being met. Legislation passed by the Senate on Thursday night, June 31-15, left several key questions about the plan unanswered, including the amount of employee and employer contributions to the fund.
“This is a great day for workers in Maryland,” Myles Hicks, who led a coalition of labor unions, religious organizations and other bill activists, said in a statement.
It remains unclear whether Hogan will sign the bill or veto it. Michael Ricci, a spoken Hogan, said the governor did not take a position on the measure, which counts many Republican state lawmakers and business owners among his critics.
“It is incredibly disappointing to see the General Assembly pass a payroll tax at a time of record inflation and rising prices on everything from bread to gallons of gasoline,” said Mike O’Halloran, director of state of Maryland and Delaware for the National. Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement. “Lawmakers are telling small businesses and their employees to stretch their paychecks even further at a time when they can least afford it.”
Under the program, employees would have to use any time off offered by their employer, without having their job compromised, before receiving time off under the new program.
Looming questions over critical details – how much workers and employers should pay and who should administer the program – result from a compromise between proposals with contrasting approaches.
The Senate bill asked employees to cover 75% of program costs, with employers paying 25%. The final approved bill leaves this question unresolved; instead, it requires the state Department of Labor to perform a cost analysis to determine the cost of the program. Another study would decide whether the state or the contractor should administer the program.
Republican lawmakers argued the program would squeeze businesses still struggling to survive since the pandemic.
Of the. April Rose (R-Carroll) compared the bill to going to a car park and saying, “Tell me how much it will cost later and I’ll just sign the check.”
They proposed numerous unsuccessful changes, including a 12-week cap instead of the 24 weeks that would be offered to some new parents; an indemnity allowing an employer to refuse a request if the worker’s absence causes him “prejudice”; and an exemption for agricultural workers under the H2 visa program.
They argued that people would abuse the benefit, creating bigger problems for businesses struggling with staff. “If you pay people to stay home, they will,” said MP Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel).
Economic Issue Chairman CT Wilson (D-Charles) said the bill is aimed at new or adoptive parents and employees who have a “serious medical condition” or are caring for a seriously ill family member. A new parent who used 12 weeks due to a critical illness would be entitled to an additional 12 weeks to bond with a new child.
Several lawmakers, including Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City), the bill’s sponsor, shared personal stories about the impact paid vacation has had on their lives during the debate. For Hayes, that meant being able to care for his grandmother, who helped raise him and who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, without fear of losing her job.
“No individual should ever have to choose between their job and the needs of their family,” he said. “It’s a long time coming.”
The bill exempts employers with fewer than 15 workers from having to contribute to the fund, but their full-time and part-time employees – who have worked more than 680 hours in the past year – would contribute to the fund and would be eligible to receive the benefit. Wilson opposed efforts to exempt other workers.
“We shouldn’t treat them any less than our white collar workers,” Wilson said of the amendment to exempt agricultural workers and industry workers from crab harvesting. “We are not trying to leave any of us behind.”