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Morhaim floats delay in paid sick leave veto override

Del. Dan Morhaim. (File)

Del. Dan Morhaim. (File)

A veteran Baltimore County Democrat who voted in favor of a bill mandating paid sick leave is telling business groups and other organizations of a potential delay to an expected attempt to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.

Del. Dan K. Morhaim said he continues to support the policy of paid sick leave but is responding to concerns expressed by businesses in his district and said he is concerned about potential flaws that could harm small businesses.

“I did support the legislation and I don’t regret it,” Morhaim said. “These are not really my concerns but the concerns of my constituents.”

Morahaim said some businesses have expressed concerns about how the bill might apply to part-time workers, seasonal workers and a requirement for leave for victims of domestic violence.

“What about other witness testimony for other crimes?” Morhaim said.

While a Morhaim defection from a veto override would not affect the House vote, his comments represent a rare break among the ranks of Democrats who view the paid sick leave bill as a top election-year priority for the party and a way they can differentiate themselves from Hogan.

Supporters of the legislation say the time for debating the bill is over.

“The override campaign is well underway with a majority of legislators signaling they’ll vote to override the veto,” said Caryn York, executive director of Job Opportunities Task Force, a Baltimore-based organization that is part of a coalition that supports the bill. “The policy debate on whether or not working families deserve sick leave is over. We look forward to the vote on overriding the Governor’s veto.”

This spring, Hogan vetoed 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 workers would not be able to use the leave during their first 106 days of employment.

A spokesman for Speaker Michael E. Busch shot down Morhaim’s trial balloon.

“We have not heard from Delegate Morhaim,” the spokesman said. “Regardless, we have the votes (to override the veto).”

Morhaim began publicly expressing concerns in the last two weeks during meetings with the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and the Baltimore Jewish Council.

“Up until that point I hadn’t heard Delegate Morhaim’s position had wavered,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, which has supported the paid sick leave bill.

“We believe paid sick leave is an important policy,” Libit said. “There is a bill in front of us. Pass that and if there are fixes that need to be made we can come back and do that. That’s how the legislative process works but let’s get something passed and then figure it out.”

Following a Dec. 4 meeting with Libit and the Baltimore Jewish Council, Morhaim sent a letter to business leaders in his district urging them to express their concerns.

“Perhaps some middle ground can be established, but the first step would be for the stakeholders to communicate their respective perspectives, and for all of us to focus on policy and not politics,” Morhaim wrote.

Speaking on Monday, Morhaim said he was simply helping to facilitate a conversation between the two sides “as I always do whether or not I share those concerns.”

Those concerns came up in the months following the end of the 2017 session, Morhaim said. He declined to say if he shared the concerns of the businesses in this case saying, “I’m just listening, as I always do.”

Libit said he has heard from only two businesses since Morhaim sent his email and that his organization continues to support paid sick leave.

Morhaim is one of three Democratic delegates from the district who voted earlier this year for the bill that mandates paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 15 or more employees. Sen. Robert A. “Bobby Zirkin, a Democrat who represents the same area, voted against the legislation in the Senate.

Unlike Dels. Shelly Hettleman and Dana Stein, Morhaim has not committed to an override of the veto.

“I didn’t know he was going to say that so it surprised me,” said Hettleman, speaking of Morhaim’s comments to the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce in November, on the same day that Hogan announced what he called a compromise bill for the 2018 session.

“If there are concerns, we need to wait for the legislation to go into effect and then we can come back and address those,” Hettleman said.

Hettleman and Stein signed a letter with 85 other House Democrats vowing to override Hogan’s veto. The number of Democrats on the letter is two more than is needed to override a veto.

The six-term legislator, however, said he remains uncommitted to an effort to override the veto less than a month before the start of the 2018 session.

“As a rule, I don’t go into advance commitments,” Morhaim said. “I always re-think my positions on every bill. That’s what we do. We’ll see what happens.”

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