Del. Kris Valderrama (center) dabs her eye while giving emotional remarks Jan. 28 on legislation she will sponsor in the Maryland General Assembly to approve paid family leave for employees. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Del. Kris Valderrama (center) dabs her eye while giving emotional remarks Jan. 28 on legislation she will sponsor in the Maryland General Assembly to approve paid family leave for employees. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Del. Kris Valderrama recalled when she once worked for an employer and her mother became diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Just like thousands of other Maryland workers, she had to use sick and vacation leave to take off and help care for her ailing mother, who’s now deceased.

“At my former employer, I got a lot of crap for taking off as much as I did,” Valderrama said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “Everyone says, ‘What is the purpose of this bill because we have sick leave, we have vacation?’ We don’t want to use our sick and vacation leave for family leave. We all need one another and we have to be there for our families.”

Valderrama (D-District 26) of Fort Washington said Tuesday in Annapolis she plans to introduce legislation this week that would provide employees paid family leave. Sen. Antonia Hayes (D-Baltimore City) will introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

According to the proposed legislation labeled “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program,” or “Time to Care Act,” an eligible employee would have worked at least 680 hours in a year at a company.

An employer would grant an employee time off to care for a spouse, child, parent, sibling, or a family member who’s a “legal guardian” of the worker. Adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren and other “step-relationships” are also included.

The legislation also outlines how workers can assist family member in the military with provisions that include spending up to 15 days with a service member “on short-term temporary rest and recuperation leave during the period of deployment.”

To help fund the program, it would be supported through a state-administered insurance pool equally split between both employee and employer.

To ensure low wage workers wouldn’t lose as much pay, it’s proposed that they’d receive up to 90 percent of their weekly pay when using paid family leave. Higher income workers would receive about 50 percent of weekly pay. Partial wage replacement would stem between $50 to $1,000 per week for a maximum period of 12 weeks.

A December report from the state Department of Legislative Services highlights nine other states and the District of Columbia that have approved family leave. By July 1, California will expand benefit offers for workers from six to eight weeks and extend the timeframe for workers in New Jersey from six to 12 weeks.

The report, which didn’t outline a position on family leave, notes the state Department of Labor would possibly administer a family leave program since the agency collects payroll taxes for unemployment insurance.

Based on information technology costs researched from the other states with family leave, the report notes Maryland would incur $60 million in contractual services over a three-year period. The cost could be less if able to use existing technology from the labor department’s unemployment insurance system.

Jayson Williams, president and CEO of MD Strategic Consulting of Bowie, already provides the benefit for his company of nine full-time employees.

“There’s compassion but also competitiveness,” he said. “This environment is getting more competitive for small businesses. The better benefits we can offer, the more likely we can compete and actual grow.”

David Chudy, a director with MD Strategic, needed to use family leave to care for his ailing parents. He also has a young son.

“I can’t even begin to express what a huge relief that was,” he said. “When you have happy employees and know they are being taken care of and treated like family, they will go out of their way to make sure the company is doing very well. It’s a level of respect.”

That’s why Valderrama wants this legislation approved, especially since it’s been revised for the past several years.

“I’m not quite sure why it took this long but everything has its day and I know paid family leave is the right thing to do,” she said.

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