The Maryland Senate debate the paid family and medical leave legislation. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

The Maryland Senate granted preliminary approval Thursday to establish a statewide paid family and medical leave program, which could receive a vote as early as Friday.

The legislation proposes an employee could receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave, but must work at least 680 hours over a 12-month period.

Employees would contribute 75% toward a paid leave fund and employers 25%. According to a worker who receives an estimated salary of $52,000, that person would contribute slightly more than $5 per week.

“People here in Maryland want to see some type of paid family leave,” said Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and lead sponsor of the legislation. “I’ve only had the last three years to debate this. Given the overwhelming support of Marylanders, this is something that we should definitely do.”

The House of Delegates colleagues also gave tentative approval on paid family and medical leave, but a completely different version of the bill known as the Time to Care Act.

The House presented a similar bill earlier this year during the 90-day session, but Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County) and chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, led efforts to amend the bill and create a commission to study paid family and medical leave in the state.

According to the amended version, it would be the General Assembly’s “intent” to establish a statutory framework for a family medical leave and insurance program.

A commission would assess how other states established its programs, appropriate eligibility a person would qualify for benefits and how they are financially sustained. A report would be presented to the governor and General Assembly by Dec. 1.

The commission would include two members appointed by the Senate president and House speaker, representatives from a labor union, Maryland Retailers Association, Maryland Chamber of Commerce and an economist.

Employees, similar to the Senate version, employees would contribute 75% and employers 25% to the fund.

During an Economic Matters committee session Wednesday, Wilson acknowledged a 2017 study got completed to assess paid family leave. However, he said that report’s “outdated” and isn’t factoring today’s inflation, rising gas prices and the coronavirus pandemic.

“We just want to make sure this is done correctly,” Wilson said during a committee meeting Wednesday. “We don’t want to fix things halfway through. We want to have a program we can be proud of.”

Several Republicans questioned the amount it would cost to implement the program, which could cost nearly $21 million and be administered by the state Department of Labor.

Although Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready of Carroll County doesn’t support the program that would mandate some employers to participate, he agrees with the House version to take more time to study the program.

Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) said there’s been work on analyzing a statewide program for about 10 years.

To ensure the program works, the Senate bill incorporates an actuarial study, or a financial analysis. Contributions wouldn’t begin until January and employees wouldn’t begin to receive claims starting in January 2025.

“We’re going to have a lot of stuff to make sure the program works,” Feldman said. But “we obviously [must] have a conversation with the House.”

@WJFjabariwill

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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