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After at least a decade of debate and dashed hopes, advocates for paid family leave in Maryland have finally seen their efforts rewarded as majority Democrats easily overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of a measure that makes the Old Line State the 10th to formally ensure workers can take paid time off to care for ill family members.
The District of Columbia also has a paid family leave law.
In his veto message, Hogan noted his support for paid family leave, but called the Time to Care Act (SB 275) “an irresponsibly drafted, rushed piece of legislation that unfairly penalizes the hundreds of thousands of hard-working men and women who own and operate small businesses in Maryland.”
Under the law, all full- or part-time public and private sector employees who have worked at least 680 hours over a 12-month period would be eligible to receive 12 weeks of paid time off to tend for a sick family member. Parents who used those dozen weeks to bond with a newborn could conceivably take another three months if they later develop their own serious illness or if they are needed to care for another sick family member.
All eligible employees will retain their positions and their health insurance during their absence.
Eligible workers are expected to receive up to 90 percent of their pay, with the exact payout determined on a sliding scale. Wages would be capped at $1,000 per week, with a minimum of $50, paid for through contributions from both workers and employers. Companies with less than 15 employees will be exempt from paying into the fund. The cap is also expected to be adjusted going forward based on inflation.
Just how the contributions will be divided is yet to be determined. The version of the bill passed by the Senate set the funding contribution split at 75 percent for employees and 25 percent for employers, but the bill sent to Hogan instead tasks the state Department of Labor with developing the funding formula.
The law will take effect on June 1, though benefits will not begin distribution until January 2025.
Hogan left no doubt as to his feelings about the bill, saying it constitutes “a new $1.6 billion regressive statewide payroll tax.” He further criticized the bill’s lack of a funding formula or a cap on payroll deductions, calling it a product of “election-year politics.”
He was not the only critic. Legislative Republicans unsuccessfully lobbied for numerous amendments, including a hard cap of 12 weeks off (rather than the potential for 24) and a way for businesses to deny a worker’s request if that absence would create “a hardship” for the employer.
“If a small business of 15 or 16 people, they could have any number of employees who use this benefit and are gone, and it can be very financially devastating to that business,” said Del. April Rose (R), who proposed the hardship amendment, during testimony.
Several GOP lawmakers also claimed the law is set up for abuse by workers.
The measure also drew a harsh reaction from Mike O’Halloran, State Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“Maryland job creators who were fortunate enough to make it through COVID restrictions, record inflation, and persistent supply chain issues will now face a new payroll tax,” he said in a statement. “Our members are finding it more and more difficult to keep up with the increased labor costs doled out by the General Assembly.”
Family leave laws have come in drips and drabs since California became the first state to adopt such a policy in 2002. It was 2009 before New Jersey became the next state up, after which eventually came Rhode Island (2014), New York (2016), Washington (2017, Washington D.C. (2017), Massachusetts (2018), Connecticut (2019), and Oregon (2019).
Of those, Massachusetts only began paying benefits last year, while Connecticut does so this year and Oregon begins in 2023.
The laws have many basic similarities but also some major differences.
Public sector employees, for example, are automatically covered under the laws in Washington state and Maryland, while coverage in the other states depends on issues like what branch of government the employee works for or how their own particular union bargaining agreement is set up.
Six states – California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado, and Maryland – have allowances “to address certain military family needs,” while New Jersey, Oregon, Colorado and Connecticut allow medical leave based on domestic abuse or sexual violence. All states allow leave for new parents to bond with a newborn or adopted child within one year of the child joining the family.
Maryland is the first this year to adopt a paid family leave law, but it might not be the last.
According to Glenn Jacoby at the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 12 more states have pending paid family leave measures that would apply to both public and private sector workers (See Bird’s Eye View).
Like those already in place, the variations can be wide.
In Arizona, for example, HB 2499 would grant eligible workers up to 12 weeks of paid time off each year. Meanwhile, separate bills in Hawaii - HB 5 and HB 1506 – would grant workers 16 weeks of time off, while two more Aloha State House bills, HB 466 and HB 2407, would allow only eight weeks. A measure in North Carolina (HB 597) would set three tiers of leave – 12, 18, or 26 weeks - while Idaho HB 447 would set tiers of three, six, or 12 months of allowable time off at two-thirds of a worker’s regular pay.
The most likely measure to become law, however, is in Delaware, where SB 1, received Senate endorsement in March. The bill, which would grant workers between eight and 12 weeks of leave per year, is now in the House, where it is considered likely to gain similar endorsement. Gov. John Carney (D) has stated his intention to sign it into law when it gets to his desk.
There is also legislation pending in California (SB 951) that would phase in a higher percentage of wages for low-income workers accessing leave, eventually ensuring them 90 percent of their regular pay. The measure passed the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement in March, and has now been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee suspense file.
Two more states – Tennessee and South Carolina – are considering bills that would apply only to public employees. Bills have also failed this session in Mississippi and West Virginia.
But further spread of the family leave policy will also require a significant change of heart in several states. Numerous states, including Texas, Kentucky, Alabama and Oklahoma, not only do not have paid family leave laws, they bar local governments from adopting their own such laws within their jurisdictions.
A measure endorsed by the Colorado Senate earlier this month has added a new wrinkle to consider for paid family leave advocates: how to accommodate leave needs for lawmakers.
Under the tenets of SB 184, Centennial State lawmakers would be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave for the birth of a child, and up to four additional weeks for a serious health condition related to complications associated with pregnancy or childbirth.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D), who missed 36 days in 2020 for her own pregnancy. Pettersen called the current policy, which allows legislators to take the time off but only without pay unless they obtain a waiver from legislative leadership, “outdated.”
The measure sparked concern from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R), who questioned whether the bill would incentivize lawmakers to skip out on representing their districts, saying he struggled with the concept “of using taxpayer dollars for not working.”
That drew a strong response from several Democratic lawmakers, including a visibly upset Sen. Faith Winter, who said lawmakers dealing with family issues actually mirrors the same struggles faced by many of their constituents.
“If we want a robust democracy,” she said. “We need all voices at the table.”
The bill is now in the House. Should it eventually become law, Colorado would be the first state to specifically include lawmakers in a paid family leave policy.
--By RICH EHISEN
Legislation dealing with paid family leave for both public and private sector workers is currently pending in at least a dozen states, according to Glenn Jacoby, an employment, labor, and retirement policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures. On April 9 Maryland became the first state to enact such legislation, after lawmakers there overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) veto of SB 275.