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Deriece Pate Bennett, left, chief lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and Kathy Snyder, the longtime chamber president who has returned on an interim basis. (Anamika Roy/The Daily Record)

Md. chamber set to fight some familiar, and new, legislative battles

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is in full gear in preparation for the upcoming legislative session, with an eye on paid sick leave and retirement mandate proposals that are due to get another shot in Annapolis next year .

The chamber recently went through changes within the organization as former President Brien Poffenberger submitted his resignation last week. On Monday Kathy Snyder, who was chamber president for 14 years before Poffenberger took over in 2014, came out of retirement to be interim president. She has offered to stay on for up to six months until the chamber finds a new president through a nationwide search.

“It’s like coming back home, but for a brief time,” said Snyder at the chamber office in Annapolis on Thursday.

With Snyder at the helm, the chamber is maintaining its priorities for the upcoming session, priorities that were established by the chamber’s leadership earlier this year.

For Deriece Pate Bennett, the chamber’s chief lobbyist, her focus from now through the session is on a proposal to require Maryland businesses with 10 or more employees to provide seven days of paid sick leave. The Chamber opposes the proposal. Bennett described the plan, which failed in the last session, as a “one-size fits all” approach that hurts small-business owners.

“No one business is alike,” said Bennett. “It goes against the core of making Maryland more competitive.”

The chamber has two big concerns with the current paid sick leave bill.

The seven-day requirement would make Maryland’s paid sick leave mandate one of the most stringent in the country, said Bennett. Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington, D.C., have state-mandated paid sick leave. Montgomery County has its own paid sick leave policy in which worker earn 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, in line with the proposed statewide policy. Washington’s mandate is broken down based on the size of the business. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon offer up to five days while California has a six-day cap. Washington, D.C., offers between three and seven days depending on the size of the business.

The chamber is also opposed to the enforcement measures included in the mandate, saying they’re unfair to small businesses.

“The employers are automatically the bad guy,” she said.

While the chamber is open to a compromise, Bennett said, it would depend on the specifics of a revised proposal.

Another policy set to make a reappearance in the upcoming session is mandatory retirement plans for small businesses. The chamber is also opposed to that proposal, arguing that there are ample opportunities for people to set up retirement plans in the market.

“We think it’s an education piece, not necessarily a mandate,” said Bennett, adding that the chamber in general is opposed to employer mandates as a policy.

The chamber is also waiting to see the report from the Augustine Commission, a panel led by Norman Augustine tasked with looking at Maryland’s business climate. That report is due out early next year.

Chamber officials have testified before the Augustine Commission over certain tax policies and are particularly interested in the single sales factor, which seeks to make sure employers are not paying sales tax twice for the goods they purchase and sell.

“We’re working with Gov. (Larry) Hogan and (Legislature) to implement recommendations of the Augustine Commission,” said Snyder.