Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk – December 1, 2017

In the Committee on Paid Leave Policy’s final report to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Ocean City’s concern about the seasonality of its businesses was directly broached.

Readers will remember Hogan vetoed a controversial paid sick leave bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly earlier this year that’s been characterized as disastrous for small businesses, especially those with a seasonal reliance like all businesses in the Ocean City area.

The governor appointed a committee in the spring to dig into the legislation and to offer a “compromise” plan. A reasoned plan is needed because the votes are easily there to override Hogan’s veto and get the legislation through in the next legislative session in Annapolis. The veto merely bought time for compromises to be considered. The report includes a variety of recommendations including the one dealing with the seasonal concerns of Ocean City’s business community. It recommends extending the days worked minimum for employees to be eligible for paid sick leave to 120 days from the current 106.

“An area of great concern to Maryland’s tourism and hospitality industries is the amount of time a seasonal employee has before collecting on their accumulated paid sick leave hours,” the report reads. “… This group is most prevalent on the Eastern Shore, but the seasonal worker relationship exists across the entire state and in a wide variety of jobs, including restaurants, lifeguards, golf course, ski lodges, and park services. HB1 provides the employer with a cushion of 106 days before the employee is eligible to receive paid sick leave benefits. The committee received information that the drafters of the bill agreed upon this number based on the average number of days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. However, research shows that a seasonal employee will frequently begin work prior to Memorial Day (often by participating in a training program), and continue to work sporadically after Labor Day. Ocean City, for example, has many large events after Labor Day – well into late September and early October. College students may continue their employment throughout this time on a limited basis, but will be technically employed while they are away at school.”

Unfortunately, for many on the opposing side of the aisle the spirit of compromise was lost in the political shots Hogan took at his Democratic colleagues at this week’s press conference. An editorial in The Baltimore Sun discussed that very topic on Wednesday.

“There is actually room for a good compromise here that marries the legislature’s effort to cover businesses with 15 or more employees with Governor Hogan’s idea for tax credits and amendments that address many of the specific concerns raised in his report,” the editorial read. “A spokesman says the governor views his new bill as a starting point, but Mr. Hogan also threw a lot of rhetorical punches in his invitation of Democrats to the bargaining table. In any case, this train appears already to have left the station. Unless Governor Hogan can peel away one Democrat in the Senate, it looks like the skids are greased for an override. The best we can hope is that once the political dust of the 2018 election settles, the governor and legislature (whoever they may be) will come back and improve the bill for the sake of workers and employers alike.”

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It was refreshing to see the Worcester County Commissioners reject a planned salary increase last week. Their present compensation of $26,000 per year is more than enough for their civic duties. I actually think local elected officials should do their volunteer jobs for free.

Nonetheless, it was interesting to learn last week the commissioners’ salaries are set to increase automatically each four years based on the cost of the living adjustments given to county employees during the previous four-year term. In advance of the 2010-2014 term, the commissioners wisely decided against a salary increase of 12.5%, which would have reflected the previous raises given to employees. Before the present 2014-2018 term, the commissioners did accept a 4-percent increase, bumping their annual salaries from $25,000 to the current $26,000. The salaries were to increase by nearly $400 a year, or 1.5%, over the next four-year term until the commissioners unanimously agreed last week to forgo that increase.

The county made the right move here, but it would seem to me the county needs to alter the resolution directly tying their wages to their employees. They should not be on the same cost of living scale as their employees. They aren’t full-time employees entitled to the same adjustments.

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Ocean City’s idea of mandating bike lights is a worthwhile concept, but enforcement is going to be the challenge.

Instead, I think the city should drop the ordinance concept altogether and instead just pursue grant funding and other means to encourage local retailers to affix the lights to the bikes prior to selling them.

It’s a public safety concern but not one that needs a law change, especially one that will be practically impossible for police to handle from an enforcement standpoint. My thought is to make it more of a grassroots campaign to get retailers on board once grant funds can be obtained through the city. Any lights leftover after retailers get their supplies can be distributed and installed at seasonal worker gatherings and through organized outreach efforts.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.