A task force appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan that was meant to study paid sick leave is coming under fire from Democrats who call the panel a sham and have filed a complaint alleging the group has failed to hold public meetings as required by law.
“This task force’s lack of transparency and failure to solicit input from workers makes it clear that this anti-worker task force is a sham, and it is a political tactic to dodge an important issue,” said Kathleen Matthews, chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party. “On issue after issue, Gov. (Larry) Hogan continues to show Marylanders that he is not on their side.”
The complaint is the latest shot in a tussle between Hogan and Democrats in advance of the 2018 legislative session and the upcoming election. Democrats, who passed the bill with a slim veto-proof margin, hope to override the governor early next year and then use his opposition to their plan as a cudgel in the general election.
Matthews said Hogan’s panel “is really no more than a cynical political tactic to dodge and important issue that really affects people’s lives.”
Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, called Matthew’s complaint a politically motivated misinterpretation of the law.
“Either they don’t understand or they didn’t read the executive order,” Mayer said. “It’s (the Open Meetings Act) not applicable.”
Hogan created the task force by executive order in May after vetoing legislation requiring businesses with 15 or more employees, including part-timers working just 12 hours a week, provide a minimum of five days of paid sick leave. Businesses with fewer employees would have to offer the same number of days as unpaid leave. The bill does not exempt seasonal employees, but employees would not be able to use the leave during the first 106 days of employment.
The measure was opposed by business groups.
In creating the panel, Hogan’s executive order makes it a part of his executive council. Mayer said attorneys for the governor have advised him that the state Open Meetings Act does not apply in such instances.
“This is all about politics to (Democrats) or else they wouldn’t have the political arm of the Democratic Party filing complaints,” Mayer said. “It’s about policy to the governor and everyone else on the executive side.”
Hogan had offered his own plan, proposing that businesses with 50 or more employees at any one location be required to offer five days of leave. He said his plan was less onerous on small businesses and offered tax incentives to smaller companies who voluntarily joined in. Advocates for the Democratic legislative plan said the governor’s bill didn’t cover enough people.
Democrats speaking Thursday said Hogan’s task force was a diversionary tactic.
In a letter to the state’s Open Meeting Compliance Board, Matthews wrote that Hogan’s task force is meeting in secret and not giving Marylanders adequate accounting of its actions, depriving the state’s citizens of their ability to play a role in its stated purpose.
State Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, in an Oct. 25 letter to Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and sponsor of the Senate version of the vetoed bill, rebutted what she called “repeated false allegations of and claims of inaction and secrecy by the governor, myself and the Department of Labor.”
Schulz did not detail specific meetings but wrote that the panel was speaking to affected businesses and employees before preparing a report that is due in December. She said the panel has talked to “more than 1,000 Marylanders from across the state — far more than would be able to travel to Annapolis in the middle of a busy work day.”
“I strongly disagree with your assertion that this process has been shrouded in secrecy,” Schulz wrote.