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Md. Senate weighs mandatory family leave plan

“It works out to $5 and something per week for an insurance package that when they get cancer, have the birth of a child, they can tap,” says Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery and the bill’s sponsor. “It’s $5.83 cents if you make $52,000 a year.” (The Daily Record/File Photo)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Senate is poised to pass legislation creating a mandatory paid family leave program.

The passage of the mandatory program sets up a potential conflict with the House of Delegates, which amended its version of the bill to create a panel to study such a program.

“We’ll obviously need to have a conversation with the House,” said Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Montgomery and vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “I think we need to move forward and if folks have a philosophical problem with the bill they should vote (against it).”

What bill will ultimately emerge from the Senate was in flux as of Thursday afternoon.

Unresolved in the Senate bill is the actual cost, currently estimated to be $1.6 billion. The final amount could change following an actuarial study. The premiums — Republicans call it a tax — would be paid in by businesses and workers starting in October 2023. The first claim could be filed in January 2025.

The state will also have to kick in an initial $100 million to set up the program within the Department of Labor. The cost includes 400 new employees.

Republicans decried the program as anti-business.

“I continue to hear that as businesses decide to evaluate different states they certainly look at the policies we’re creating,” said Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore.

The bill before the Senate calls for 12 weeks of paid family leave for the majority of full- and part-time workers in the state.

The mandatory program would work like an insurance plan paid for by employers and employees. The assessment could not exceed .75% of an employees wages. Employers would pay three-quarters of the assessment.

“It works out to $5 and something per week for an insurance package that when they get cancer, have the birth of a child, they can tap,” said Feldman. “It’s $5.83 cents if you make $52,000 a year.”

Those costs would be subject to change annually.

In return, an employee would be eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave for a serious illness or to care for a family member who is seriously ill. Leave would also be available to help families dealing with military deployment.

The fund would provide a payment of between $50 and $1,000 based on an individual’s average weekly wages. The amount would be tied to inflation.

This is the fourth time paid family leave has been proposed in Maryland. Ten other states have created similar programs.

A poll this year paid for by supporters of the proposal found 88% of those surveyed support the measure.

The Senate will also consider an amendment that could add an additional 12 weeks to allow parents to remain home after the birth of a child.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, called the bill “a very European, French model” and labeled the proposal “ridiculous.”

“To me, what this does is take a bill that is 12 weeks, which I already have a problem with,” said Hough. “You go to downtown Annapolis here, has anyone noticed like half the places are closed because they can’t find anybody to work?”