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Md. advocates search for consensus on paid sick leave legislation

A statewide effort to require paid sick leave for employees will be back on the table next month when advocates of the bill sit down with opponents in an attempt to craft consensus legislation that has a chance for passage in the General Assembly.

At least two potential amendments to last session’s unsuccessful legislation have been proposed, and Melissa Broome, deputy director of Baltimore-based Job Opportunities Task Force, a prime backer of the effort, said she expects more in the coming weeks leading up to the 2016 General Assembly session.

“At this point no decisions have been made, but we are asking people to come to the meetings with proposed changes,” Broome said.

More than two dozen groups that expressed opposition to the bill last year have been invited to what Broome called “private, one-on-one meetings in Annapolis.” The Nov. 9 and 10 meetings hosted by Working Matters are in response to a call earlier this year for both sides to hammer out their differences.

“These are not going to solve everyone’s concerns, I’m sure of that,” Broome said. “There are groups who will never be able to support the bill. There’s just always going to be groups that are philosophically opposed to this kind of idea.”

Broome declined to say how many groups have already accepted the invitation.

Working Matters, a coalition of 144 organizations, has pushed for passage of the bill in Maryland and in individual counties around the state.

Among those groups that have traditionally opposed the sick leave measure are the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

“As far as we’re concerned (paid sick leave) is a nonstarter,” said Michael O’Halloran, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses. “There’s a philosophical difference here regarding government mandates on small businesses. I don’t think the proposed amendments really do much for our members. It just nips around the edges.”

Gov. Larry Hogan did not take a public position on the most recent version of the bill, but he campaigned on making the state more business-friendly. Opponents of the bill widely believe the governor would have concerns about its effects on Maryland small businesses.

“As a business owner, (Hogan) understands the type of burden that government mandates place on small businesses,” O’Halloran said.

Under the most recent proposed bill, businesses with 10 or more employees would be required to offer paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 worked — roughly seven days a year. The leave would begin accruing immediately when an employee is hired, and the worker would be eligible to take the leave after 90 days of employment.

For businesses with less than 10 employees, workers would be eligible to accrue unpaid sick leave. Advocates say 70 percent of the businesses in Maryland would be covered under this provision.

At least two possible amendments have surfaced in response to concerns Broome said were raised by some business owners and groups.

The proposed changes represent the first significant movement on the issue since the paid sick leave measure died in committee last year — the third consecutive year the bill failed.

“Our committees recognize the complex nature of this legislation and the potential impact that it may have, if enacted, on the state’s businesses and workforce,” House Economic Matters Chairman Dereck C. Davis, D-Prince George’s County, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles County, wrote in April. “Therefore, we strongly urge you and your respective stakeholders to come together during the interim to provide interested parties with a forum for sharing specific input and offering language to address the concerns with the bill as drafted.”

The first proposed amendment would exempt businesses from modifying their existing practices if their paid sick leave policy is at least equivalent to the proposed state law. The language is similar to that found in law in Washington, D.C.

The second, based on language of legislation recently passed in Montgomery County, would allow businesses to forgo allowing employees to roll over sick days if the employer makes all seven days of leave available on Jan. 1 of each year.

“We want to be accommodating where we can be and I don’t feel like these compromise the integrity of the bill,” Broome said. “I can’t say these will be in the final version. We haven’t done a redraft but I know they will be considered.”