Gov. Larry Hogan’s May 25 veto on legislation that would have required businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five days of paid sick and safe leave has stirred fierce emotions in the Jewish community.
The Republican governor blasted the Democrat-controlled General Assembly for discarding his “common sense” bill that would have created tax incentives to help employers offset paid sick and safe leave benefit costs.
The Democratic legislation that passed instead is something Hogan believes would be “disastrous” to the state’s economy, “kill small businesses and jeopardize thousands of Maryland jobs,” Hogan said at a new conference announcing the veto.
“We cannot afford to turn back to the failed job-killing policies of the past,” he said in a prepared statement. “Our administration fully supports paid sick leave benefits for Marylanders, but we cannot and will not support this job-killing bill passed by the legislature, which would hurt the very workers that they are pretending to want to help.”
Nonetheless, Hogan’s veto has left Jewish legislators and advocacy groups divided over the issue, while an estimated 700,000 workers remain without the benefit, according to the advocacy group Working Matters.
Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-District 11), who represents Baltimore County and is a co-sponsor of the bill, said she feels the bill is “sensible and smart policy for hardworking employees.”
“There are certain fundamental workers’ rights issues, and I would certainly put this into that category,” Hettleman said at a recent Pikesville Chamber of Commerce event. “I feel strongly about this, and I know a lot of workers feel strongly about this.”
While the bill passed both chambers with a veto-proof majority, the Senate approved it with just 29 votes — the minimum three-fifths needed to override a veto.
House Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat who represents District 30, said a veto override will take precedent when the session convenes in January.
“We carefully balanced the impact on small businesses by specifically exempting businesses with less than 15 employees from the legislation,” Busch said in a prepared statement. “This was House Bill 1 because it is a priority for the General Assembly, and it will be a priority override in January.”
Among those who did not vote for the measure was Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), who specifically took issue with the “hardship” he felt it would create for small business owners.
Zirkin proposed a last-minute amendment for companies that could prove they would have to lay off workers or go out of business if required to offer paid sick and safe leave after hearing the concerns ofowner of a Pikesville-based company that outsources lifeguards to swim clubs.
Companies in similar standing would have had to apply for a hardship waiver from the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation under the amendment to be exempt.
Zirkin said he likely would have thrown his support behind the bill had his amendment been adopted.
“[Watts] would have gone out of business, 100 percent, no exception,” said Zirkin, who added he offers paid sick and safe leave to his dozen employees at Pikesville-based Zirkin and Schmerling Law. “Why? Because [Watts’] rates would have been raised so high that he would have been getting crushed. The ramifications of this bill were very far-reaching.”
Hogan said he remains intent on his commitment to work on policies that would extend paid sick and safe leave to more Maryland workers. He issued three executive orders designed to further research and tackle the issue.
One will create a task force, led by state Labor Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, to study the implications of paid sick and safe leave in Maryland. A second will provide paid leave benefits to all contractual employees in the state executive branch, more than 8,000 workers. The third will authorize all state procurement authorities to begin giving preference to contractors who offer paid sick and safe leave to their employees.
Under Hogan’s bill, employers with 50 workers at a single location would have had to offer up to five days of paid sick and safe leave. The proposal would only apply to those who work at least 30 hours per week, covering about 272,000 workers who do not currently receive any paid sick and safe leave benefits.
Hogan called on all legislators “to put the partisan politics aside and work with us to pass a better bill” aimed at developing a “common sense compromise.”
“We still have time to work together to get this right,” Hogan said. “… Let’s reach a compromise to ensure that our small business job creators aren’t forced to lay off workers or shut their doors in order to comply with overly-strict, burdensome and costly regulations. Let’s make sure that hardworking Marylanders don’t end up paying the price for a politicized legislative process.”
But some have said there’s no room to compromise when it comes to this issue.
Jews United for Justice Montgomery County community organizer Laura Wallace said she is working closely with Working Matters, a coalition of more than 160 groups that supports the Democratic-sponsored legislation.
On Tuesday, Wallace was among members of the coalition’s health, faith, small business and labor and community organizations who expressed their disappointment with Hogan.
“We have another eight months to overturn [Hogan’s] veto, but unfortunately, Maryland families can’t wait that long,” Wallace said. “… We will keep fighting. [Hogan’s] veto is simply a protest against the inevitable. We’ll make our voices heard in the 2018 General Assembly once and for all.”
Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, previously told the JT that businesses that can afford to offer sick and sick leave already do.
“The idea that legislators can determine what benefits an employer can offer employees is the sole reason of the [NFIB’s] opposition to the bills,” said O’Halloran, whose organizations has more than 4,000 members in Maryland. “Legislators don’t sign the front of employee paychecks. Because employers run their business on a day-to-day basis, they know a heck of a lot better what they can and cannot afford to offer.”