Del. Kris Valderrama believes the third time will be the charm to pass paid family and medical leave in Maryland.
The Democrat from Fort Washington who’s once again sponsoring the legislation presented it during a virtual public hearing Tuesday, which has support from House Speaker Adrienne Jones.
“I’ve always thought the bill was timely, especially even more now,” she said before the House Economic Matters Committee. “All of us will either need the benefits, or we know some who will. COVID-19 has surely illustrated this point.”
One main part of the legislation, known as the Time to Care Act, would grant workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave. It would also provide long term care such as following childbirth and a family member caring for someone with a “serious health condition,” and workers can receive partial wage replacement.
The bill would also allow a person to use leave if a family member in the military receives a notice within seven days of deployment, or attend a military-related event.
Employees would make weekly contributions to a state Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund program not to exceed 0.75% of an employee’s wages.
According to the bill, “any covered employee is an employee who has worked at least 680 hours over a 12-month period immediately preceding the date on which leave is to begin.”
Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County), who chairs the committee, drafted a similar bill also discussed Tuesday with a few differences such as a 1% weekly contribution.
It would cost the state $20 million to start the program, but “it would be not borne by the state but paid back from the collections that we’ll be doing,” he said.
Those who spoke in favor of the bill during a more than 90-minute discussion included Democratic governor hopeful Tom Perez and Michelle Siri, running mate of John King Jr., another Democratic gubernatorial candidate
Perez, who served as former labor secretary under President Obama, said the United States remains the only industrialized nation without paid family leave. Nine states and the District of Columbia adopted paid family leave programs.
“We can do this. We must do this,” said Perez, a former Democratic National Committee chair. “I’ve seen around the world that this works.”
Siri, executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, said nearly 1.1 million fewer women are in the workforce compared to February 2020, a month before many schools and businesses shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Women continually put their careers on hold and get pushed down back the ladder of success,” she said. “This is what we are seeing played out in real time as school and day care closings are preventing women from returning to the workforce. All these scenarios can be addressed by implementing paid leave.”
Although opponents support the bill’s concept, they still believe it’s too expensive for local governments, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
“It’s burdensome,” said Paul Frey, president and CEO of Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve proposed the establishment of a new legislative work group by this summer to work on and discuss the issues both sides have regarding this legislation.”
Fiona Ong, general counsel for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said the bill would grant the state to take over an employer’s human resources function, “which is simply unworkable.” She said employees are granted time off through current federal and state laws such as paid sick leave, parental leave, pregnancy accommodations and even organ donation.
“What’s critically important about these laws is that all of them balance a leave right against the needs of employers such as verification, challenging fraud or abuse, no automatic reinstatement and even denying leave that poses an undue hardship or interferes with business operations,” Ong said. “This is why it’s critical to make clear this program is a pay for leave program and not a paid leave program.”