Lawmakers listen to testimony in Annapolis on Feb. 27 regarding proposed legislation for employers to offer paid family leave. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Lawmakers listen to testimony in Annapolis on Feb. 27 regarding proposed legislation for employers to offer paid family leave. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — Sharon Long found out she suffered from multiple sclerosis the day before Thanksgiving in 2018.

The resident of Fort Washington, Maryland, said she continues to pray and work full time at the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy in Alexandria, Virginia.

“I haven’t taken off of for MS, but I don’t know what it is going to look like for me in the future,” Long said. “Thank God I didn’t have to use any [leave and short-term disability], but should I need to use it and should it come up, I would like to have something in place.”

Long joined dozens of others at a public hearing Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee to support statewide legislation to offer Maryland employees paid family leave.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) proposes to grant an employee time off to care for a spouse, child, sibling or parent or legal guardian. Grandchildren, stepchildren, adopted children and other “step”-relationships are also included.

Del. Kris Valderrama (D-District 26) of Fort Washington held a hearing last week in the House of Delegates on the bill, which offers workers up to 15 days to spend time with a family member in the military on short-term leave during deployment.

The Family and Medical Leave Insurance program would be supported through a state-administered insurance pool equally split between both employee and employer. However, workers can maintain their own health insurance carrier and remain eligible.

Low-wage earners would receive up to 90 percent of their weekly pay when using the leave; higher income workers would get about 50 percent.

Partial wage replacement would be between $50 to $1,000 per week for a maximum period of 12 weeks.

Any employee who worked at least 680 hours in a year at a company would be eligible.

If approved, Maryland would join nine other states and the District of Columbia that have committed to offering paid family leave for workers.

“I definitely see this as a benefit,” Hayes said. “This is one other way [employers] can honor, give the respect and dedication that their employees have to their company.”

Several business owners and representatives with various agencies support time off for workers, but not the bill’s format.

Opponents claim the bill is broader than the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which grants certain employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons.

In October, state workers can receive 60 paid parental days off for up to six months after a child’s birth or the adoption of a child age 6 or younger.

Because the bill could allow an employee to receive an additional 12 weeks within a year after applying for previous leave benefits, Paul Frey suggested the committee refer it over the summer.

“It’s very difficult for business owners to get here and talk to you in person. It’s a three-hour, round-trip drive from Washington County,” said Frey, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. “Here’s my recommendation: take it to a summer study, come to Washington County and [talk] with 50 business owners about their concerns and craft the bill that works for everybody.”

Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel County), a former principal of an insurance agency, recalled one of her employees needed time off to help care for her father, brother and then she was diagnosed with cancer.

“She had a been a 20-year employee that I respected and trusted,” she said. “I look at this [legislation] and I think, ‘what a gift this would’ve been to me to have something like this to pay for her.’ From an employer’s point of view, this would be very, very beneficial.”

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