Senate Passes Paid Sick Leave Bill With Amendments

OCEAN CITY- One week after the House of Delegates passed a stringent version of a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to most employees, the State Senate on Thursday passed an amended version that should be more palatable to the resort business community.

The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, cross-filed in both the House and Senate, would require a business with over 14 employees to provide a policy under which an employee earns at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours he or she works. Under the current language, the paid sick leave bill would make eligible all employees who work at least 90 days for an employer, which would encompass thousands of seasonal workers in Ocean City, for example.

The House last week passed its version of the bill with an 88-57 vote after rejecting all amendments proposed to make the legislation more palatable for seasonal small businesses. Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C), who represents Ocean City and the Lower Shore, proposed an amendment that would expand the eligibility requirement to 120 days, which would have insulated many resort businesses from the rather onerous paid sick leave requirements for countless seasonal workers.

However, that amendment, like many others proposed, was rejected last week in the House version. The bill moved over to the Senate and the hope was, at least locally, that Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) and others will be able to attach a similar amendment. On Thursday, the Senate passed its version of the bill by a 29-18 vote that included a few provisions that should insulate somewhat the seasonal nature of the resort business community.

“We were able to get a number of things done with this bill that should benefit our community,” he said. “At an Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting last year, I strongly suggested the business community closely monitor the paid sick leave bill was probably going to pass and I urged them to find out what they needed to make it work.”

While an amendment that would have expanded the eligibility requirement to 120 days, or roughly the time a typical seasonal worker is employed in Ocean City, Mathias was able to attach an amendment to the Senate’s approved version that cuts the requirement to 106 days.

“The 120-day amendment failed in the House, but I was able to get a 106-day limitation on it, which should help the resort business community,” he said. “The significance of the 106 days is that takes it from the Friday before Memorial Day to the last possible date to Labor Day.”

Mathias said he was also able to attach other amendments to the bill that should help the resort business community, including reducing the number of days for which a seasonal employee can earn credit for paid sick leave from seven days, or 56 hours, to five days, or 40 hours. Also added was a provision for a doctor’s note to be required for any call-out after the 107th day. There were also provisions where an employer could be insulated in cases where workers swap shifts, or get another employee to cover for them, when they are ill.

Mathias said the amendments do not make the bill entirely perfect, but they should make the regulations more palatable for the Ocean City business community and similar communities with seasonal economies.

“The business community will have to figure out how to manage this,” he said. “There were a variety of considerations that we were able to get through to improve the bill. It was the result of very difficult deliberations, very difficult, but yielding negotiation. There are times when you have to work with what’s in front of you.”

Meanwhile, the efforts to amend the bill to make it more favorable to Ocean City and other seasonal employers could be moot if Governor Larry Hogan gets his way. Even before the Senate approved its version of the paid sick leave bill on Thursday, Hogan announced he would veto any version that emerged from the House or Senate. That announcement was met with great relief from many small business advocates, including the Maryland chapter of the National Federation for Independent Business (NFIB).

“The small business community has adamantly opposed House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 230 since their inception has wholly unworkable legislation,” he said. “There is no doubt that mandatory paid leave in this form will cost the state of Maryland thousands of jobs and act as a hiring deterrent for employers throughout the state,” said NFIB Maryland State Director Mike O’Halloran this week. “Despite the opposition to the concept of government mandating employee benefits, the business community offered more than a dozen reasonable and responsible amendments to help Maryland small businesses mitigate the impact of this mandate. Despite bipartisan support, the legislature chose not to listen to the pleas from Maryland businesses.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.