2016 Priority: Paid Sick Leave

For several years, the Maryland General Assembly has been unsuccessful in passing a paid sick leave bill. It’s a national priority for President Obama, Montgomery County did it, and the District of Columbia did it - although Prince George’s County saw its 2015 bill squelched by Council President Mel Franklin.

With the start of the legislative session only ten days away, the Post reports today that 2015 sponsors Senator Catherine Pugh and Delegate Luke Clippinger are preparing to give it another go in 2016.

Democrats will try again in 2016 to make Maryland one of the few states in the nation that require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers.

State Senate Majority Leader Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) and Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said last week that they will propose bills to require businesses with 10 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.

Both lawmakers sponsored similar legislation in 2015, but the measures stalled at the committee level. They said that they will introduce new versions of the bills within the first weeks of the 2016 legislative session, with minor changes to clarify details such as how the rules would apply to businesses that already provide paid sick leave.

“We want to present the best bill possible, but at same time we want to accommodate as many people as we can,” Pugh said.

As always, with Larry Hogan in the governor’s office, it’s about constructing a veto proof majority from the Democratic caucus.

The 141-member House needs 85 votes to overcome a veto, and the 47-member Senate needs 29; Democrats hold 33 seats in the Senate and 91 in the House.

In 2015, 77 delegates and 22 senators co-sponsored the sick-leave bills, eight and seven votes short of a veto-proof majority, respectively.

“There was a feeling last time that the first year of a governor’s term would not be the right time to put this on his desk,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of the Job Opportunities Task Force. “At this point, there’s really no reason to wait.”

Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill did not offer a position on paid sick days but said the governor will “carefully review any bill that makes it to his desk.”

More than 140 groups have expressed support for Maryland sick-day legislation since October, including unions, businesses, faith-based organizations and public-health advocates.

This should be a party loyalty vote in both chambers. At some point, being a Democrat has to mean something more than just a label. This bill is about fairness, it’s about public health, and it’s about families. Pitch it right and get it done. 

Paid Sick Days IV

A significant issue with this bill is the issue of enforcement. Council staff notes that enforcement would be with the Office of Human Rights. No additional funding in current FY budget.

Leventhal moves to delay effective date for one year, from 10/1/15 to to 10/1/16. Hoping for state agency (DLLR) to take over enforcement, as occurred with minimum wage. But state law is needed for that to happen.

Live Blogging In Rockville

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be covering the work session on the Montgomery County #PaidSickDays bill sponsored by Council President George Leventhal.

Paid sick days, paid parental leave, an increased minimum wage - all are part of any effort to improve conditions for workers. The statewide bill on paid sick leave met resistance both in the House Economic Matters and Senate Finance committees in 2015. Hopefully, the MoCo bill will get out of committee tomorrow, but one way or the other you’ll hear about here first.

One sour note to report - there is a new bill in the Council to cap increases in the minimum wage for tipped workers at the current level of $4/hour. Under current law, the tipped worker wage would increase intended with the state minimum wage, which is in the process of increasing to $10.10/hour by 2018. There’s been one increase so far, from $3.63/hour to $4. Now, four Councilmembers (Berliner, Floreen, Rice and Katz) are proposing a bill to cap the tipped worker wage at that level, regardless of increases in the state minimum wage. Under current law, the tipped wage would increase to $6.75 $6.25 [corrected - basic math brain fart] by 2018.

Tipped workers are the most vulnerable workers in the entire labor force. One of the biggest - but by no means the only - criticism of the 2014 increase in the state minimum wage was the exclusion of tipped workers entirely. The fact that a cap on the minimum wage for tipped workers is even being considered in deep blue MoCo is unfortunate.

The stated reason for the County bill is to “reduce confusion over the amount of base pay for a tipped employee.” Maybe a website or other public source of information might be helpful? Might the fact that the bill is going to be an enormous windfall for employers of tipped workers, such as restaurants and bars, who are already notorious for exploiting and underpaying employees, be a possible motivation?

I couldn’t possibly speculate. But I’m thinking another field trip to Rockville on June 16 might be an interesting way to find out.