ANNAPOLIS, Md. – After several years of unsuccessful attempts to pass paid family and medical leave in Maryland, Senate President Bill Ferguson said Thursday that will change.
“It’s gonna pass this year,” he said before a rousing applause from several Senate Democrats and advocates during a press conference Thursday in Annapolis.
Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) summarized why the bill some of his colleagues and supporters labeled as “common-sense” hasn’t been able to pass in previous years.
“It is not something that is a quick-flip switch,” he said. “It’s complicated. It’s complex. But to do it well [and] to do it right, you need to bring everybody to the table. That’s what this moment is.”
Some of those standing alongside Ferguson came from members of the Time to Care coalition, a group of nonprofit organizations and activists who’ve made paid family and medical leave a top priority for this year’s 90-day legislation session.
Ricarra Jones, political director for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and part of the 1,400 members of the coalition, said 2.5 million Maryland workers don’t have the paid leave benefit.
According to a brief this month from the National Partnership for Women and Families, the organization assessed “a typical worker” in Maryland who uses four weeks of unpaid leave loses more than $3,700 in income. Since 2020, state workers who contracted COVID-19 lost an estimated $537 million in wages due to inadequate paid leave.
“This loss not only hurts workers and their families, [but it also] really hits our economy,” Jones said. “Nobody should have to choose between a family they love and a paycheck they need.”
Optimism for this year comes from the backing of not only Ferguson, but also House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County).
One of the main components of the bills labeled the “Time to Care Act” sponsored in both the House and Senate chambers would grant workers not only up to 12 weeks of paid leave, but also provide long term care for an ailing family member or following childbirth. Workers can receive partial wage replacement.
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.”
The House measures from Dels. Kris Valderrama and C.T. Wilson are scheduled for discussion Friday before the House Business Regulation Subcommittee.
A hearing took place this month before the Senate Finance Committee sponsored by Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City). Before he went to the Senate session Monday night, Hayes stopped by a rally at Lawyers’ Mall near the State House to thank supporters and keep up the pressure to make sure the legislation passes.
Hayes said Thursday he and his wife are expecting the birth of their baby “any day now” and will probably use paid family leave for that.
He also spoke about how he and other family members help care for his grandmother diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“No other family member should be put in that situation where they have to choose between their employment and taking care of a loved one, especially folks like my grandmother who’s nurtured me most of my life,” he said.
As of last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in northwest D.C., notes nine states and the District of Columbia enacted paid family and medical leave.