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Democrats turning cold shoulder to Hogan on sick leave compromise


Sen. Thomas M. ‘Mac’ Middleton, D-Charles and a sponsor of paid sick leave legislation in the Senate, says he doesn’t see many prospects for a deal with the governor. (File photo/Maximilian Franz)

A battle to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of paid sick leave legislation appears to be on track despite overtures from the governor to negotiate a settlement.

A spokesman for the first-term Republican said Hogan is interested in a compromise bill that could be introduced when the legislature returns in January. Supporters and sponsors of the legislation that was passed and then vetoed last year, however, are rejecting his appeal. Instead, they are focused on a looming election year veto override attempt.

“What else is there to negotiate?” asked Caryn York, executive director of Job Opportunities Task Force, a member of a 160-organization coalition that supports paid sick leave. “This bill has been negotiated for the past five years. It passed the General Assembly and is now being considered for an override. If the governor was interested in negotiating, it would have been helpful for his team to join the conversation prior to 2017.”

Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor believes House Bill 1 imposes an onerous mandate on small businesses.

“We definitely want a compromise,” Mayer said. “It just has to be a heck of a lot less onerous and prescriptive on small businesses.”

The vetoed legislation requires 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 workers would not be able to use the leave during their first 106 days of employment.

Hogan offered his own bill requiring five days of leave for businesses with at least 50 employees at one location. Companies with fewer employees could voluntarily participate and be eligible for tax breaks that were estimated to cost $60 million annually. That bill died in committee.

Mayer said the governor would like to see a compromise measure that contains more incentives for businesses to offer paid leave and less mandates. The governor is still willing to introduce emergency compromise legislation at the start of the session.

It’s not clear how or if such legislation would vary from Hogan’s proposal earlier this year. Mayer, while declining to provide specifics about potential areas of compromise, said he expects a report from the governor’s task force, due in two months, to offer direction.

Hogan and Kelly M. Schulz, secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Schulz is tasked with running a study ordered by Hogan that is to examine the potential effects of paid sick leave on small businesses in the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Kelly M. Schulz, secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, who is overseeing a study ordered by Hogan of the potential effects of paid sick leave on small businesses in the state.

“We’ll see what it says,” Mayer said. “We’re hoping it will provide more insight and information on this important debate.”

Finding room for a compromise measure may be difficult, according to Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles and a sponsor of paid sick leave legislation in the Senate.

“I probably went the limit because there were folks on the advocacy side, members of the legislature, who had concerns about the differences between the House and Senate,” Middleton said. Any attempt to water-down the legislation further would face “the difficulty of getting it through because, I don’t like to label anybody, but the more progressive members of the Senate, they don’t want any more modifications to this bill,” Middleton said. “At the end of the day, as the chairman, you’ve got to get it passed (by) the committee and passed (by) the legislature before it can end up on the governor’s desk.”

Middleton said he offered to work with Hogan and top administration officials on the legislation during the 2017 session.

“That suggestion, never took me up on it,” Middleton said.

Del. Luke H. Clippinger, D-Baltimore City and sponsor of the vetoed bill, said he and other lawmakers are focusing on the coming session and not on a task force created by Hogan that is expected to deliver a report in December.

“We’ve been open to those comments in the past,” Clippinger said. “Really the time for that has passed. We have legislation that will be up for a veto override in January, and I look forward to our overriding the governor’s veto.”

Democrats hold super-majorities in the House and Senate and both chambers passed the paid sick leave bill by veto-proof majorities.

Supporters of the bill recently announced they had commitments from 87 Democratic delegates to override Hogan’s veto, two more than needed.

Opponents say the battle to sustain the veto will be in the Senate, where 29 legislators — the exact number needed to override Hogan — voted for the measure. Election year politics could come into play, giving business groups hope that they can pick off one Democrat.

“We’ve always viewed the battleground to be the Senate and that’s because of each chamber’s make up,” said Mike O’Halloran, National Federation of Independent Business Maryland State Director.

York agreed but said senators who think about sustaining Hogan’s veto could face consequences at the ballot box.

“The real fight is always in the Senate, for everything now it seems,” York said. “However, we are confident that Maryland senators who care about working families will stand strong for working families and vote green when the time comes. If not, it will be really difficult to return to your districts after the session with pamphlets that claim you care about Maryland working families. Maryland workers won’t forget how their representatives responded when it came to defend and support them.”

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