Maryland Sens. Antonio Hayes (left) and Joanne C. Benson sit on the Senate floor on March 18 as the Senate approved legislation for paid family and medical leave. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Maryland Sens. Antonio Hayes (left) and Joanne C. Benson sit on the Senate floor on March 18 as the Senate approved legislation for paid family and medical leave. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Shannon Sneed recalled when she found out being pregnant more than five years ago after being laid off from her job at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

That experience propelled the former Baltimore City Council member to become a strong advocate for policies involving child care and paid family leave.

“We shouldn’t have to choose between work and family,” Sneed, chosen by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perez as his choice for lieutenant governor, said last month at a rally in Annapolis. “When you’re working, you should definitely have paid family leave. This is important. I think [lawmakers] can get it out this year.”

It did appear that way when the 90-day session began in January, especially with support from House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson making paid family and medical leave as one of the top priorities in the state.

Both the Senate and House of Delegates presented similar legislation that proposed to offer employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave, but a person must work at least 680 hours over a 12-month period. It provided long-term care such as following childbirth and helping an ailing family member.

The legislature approved different versions Friday, March 18 with the bills going to the opposite chambers.

A House version of the bill will be reviewed by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 29.

As of March 22, a public hearing for the Senate bill still hadn’t been scheduled before the House Economic Matters Committee. 

The Senate version includes employees contributing 75% toward a paid leave fund and employers 25%, but the House sought at least a 50-50 split.

The Senate approved last week to amend the bill to allow an additional 12 weeks for new parents to bond with a child, or care for a baby who’s ill. That person could also utilize up to 12 weeks of benefits to care for a family member “with a serious health condition.”

That person could receive up to 24 months of benefits, which could cost the state nearly $21 million to administer by the state Department of Labor.

Another part of the legislation amended would require the state to cover contributions for developmental disability and behavioral health providers.

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.

“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.”

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles County), who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, led efforts to amend the House version and create a commission to assess 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 analyze 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.

Del. Nino Mangione (R-Baltimore County) asked about the Senate bill being different from the House’s proposal.

“We are not the Senate, correct,” Wilson said Friday.

In the meantime, advocates praised the Senate for passing legislation, but also hopes the House will be convinced to pass a similar measure before the session ends April 11.“The bill passed by the Senate, which contains an actuarial study on contribution rates within it, is the right approach, and we are thankful to the Maryland Senate for working to make it happen this year,” Myles Hicks, campaign manager for the Time to Care Coalition, said in a statement Friday, “Regarding the house approving a different bill, it is our coalition’s job to continue to advocate for legislation that will establish a paid family and medical leave program. We are glad Speaker Jones has paid family and medical leave as a priority this session and look forward to continuing to work with members of the House to get this critical piece of legislation passed this session.”

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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