Maryland Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) talks paid family and medical leave legislation and serves as the lead sponsor. Hayes and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child on Feb. 28. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Maryland Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) talks paid family and medical leave legislation and serves as the lead sponsor. Hayes and his wife celebrated the birth of their first child on Feb. 28. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

After several years of debate, it’s done. Maryland lawmakers approved a paid family and medical leave program that offers employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave but a person must work at least 680 hours over a 12-month period that provides long term care such as following childbirth and helping an ailing family member.

New parents and those who suffer a serious health issue in the same year could receive up to 24 weeks of paid leave.

Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) served as the lead sponsor in his chamber on the legislation that’s been discussed at least since 2015 when he first served in the House of Delegates.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Hayes, who with his wife celebrated the birth of their first child Feb. 28 named Antonio Agapito Hayes. 

“It’s a really important piece of legislation. I know philosophically there are some differences about how we get there, but I believe we should be really, really proud of the work we did this legislative session,” he said. 

Immediately after the 31-15 vote in the Senate on Thursday, March 31, Hayes thanked several people with the Time to Care Coalition, a group of advocates, nonprofit organizations and residents who pushed for passage of the bill known as the “Time to Care Act.”

“This is a great day for Maryland workers,” the coalition’s campaign manager Myles Hicks said in a statement. “The General Assembly has passed a much-needed measure that will give nearly 2.5 million Maryland workers the ability to take time off from a job while they deal with family health issues, without having to lose a paycheck or a job. This legislation is also good for employers as it will help their employees balance demands of work and family, which reduces turnover. We strongly urge Governor Larry Hogan to sign this bill into law.”

Shayne Dizard of Silver Spring, a retired nurse and educator and a member of Progressive Maryland, also expressed joy in the legislators’ decision.

“If signed into law by the governor, millions of Marylander workers will have access to 12 weeks and a partial salary for critical care,” she said in a text message Friday, April 1. “I’m excited to see Maryland joining other states in contributing to the health and well-being of its people.”

In January, The Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Northwest, noted nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family and medical leave. Although approved in Oregon and Colorado, they haven’t gone into effect.

The bill awaits a decision from the Republican governor, who has up to six days from when he receives it on whether to sign it into law or veto the measure.

Even with a veto, both chambers hold a Democratic supermajority and could override Hogan’s veto before the legislature adjourns Monday, April 11.

Republican lawmakers expressed displeasure with several parts of the bill, approved in the House of Delegates on March 30.

Before the Senate’s formal vote, it needed to concur with several changes the House made such as 

outlining employees contributing 75% toward the paid family leave program and employers 25%.

The House removed those specific percentages and agreed to allow the state Department of Labor to conduct a study to determine an appropriate cost-sharing analysis anywhere between a 75/25 split.

In other words, workers or businesses could contribute the same, more or less toward the fund.

A report would be due by Oct. 1, a few months before the legislature would reconvene next year and before workers start contributing to the fund by October 2023. Employees could not receive claims until January 2025.

The bill seeks to provide relief for small businesses with 15 or fewer employees allowing them to choose to contribute to a paid family and medical leave fund.

Because of the weeks employees would be allowed to take off and an unknown number of businesses affected and an undetermined cost-sharing split between employee and employer, Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County said the legislation should be called “Time of Plan.”

“It just seems that a work group studying this information instead of passing something with all these unknowns and then coming back and say the next legislature that’s elected will figure out all the details would’ve been a better approach,” he said.

Similar to what Republican legislators called a “payroll tax” that could cost the state $1 billion, Maryland Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mary Kane said residents and businesses can’t afford “this costly mandate.”

“We have been vocal on our desire to see a comprehensive evaluation of a paid family and medical leave insurance program before pressing forward with an ill-conceived, cost-prohibitive program like the one just voted on,” she said in a statement. “We are hopeful Governor Hogan will veto this dangerous legislation, protecting Maryland’s businesses and working families from another tax when they can least afford it.”

Editor’s Note: As this news report went to press, the governor had not decided whether he would approve or veto the bill. However, Gov. Hogan has through the end of the week to make his decision.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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