Hotly debated sick-leave bills considered by Md. Senate committee

WASHINGTON — A Maryland Senate committee is considering a pair of hotly debated bills that would force businesses across the state to offer paid time off to their employees.

The General Assembly nearly passed paid sick-leave legislation last year, and now lawmakers are taking another look after the state’s Senate Finance Committee heard from supporters and opponents Thursday.

“As costs continue to layer, people will lose jobs,” said Cailey Locklair Tolle, with the Maryland Retailers Association. “Between health care, which is going through the roof, minimum wage increases and all the other costs of doing business, it is helpful to step back and look at the bigger picture.”

Mike O’Halloran, with the National Federation of Independent Business, told committee members that the policy is, in many cases, unworkable for the business community.

“Those who do not offer this benefit do not because they cannot,” he said. “That’s a simple fact.”

Supporters such as Erik Rettig, with Small Business Majority, said paid leave can “benefit businesses by lowering turnover, boosting productivity and enhancing employee morale.”

Gail Kingman, a registered nurse at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, spoke about problems she has experienced on the job.

“I see firsthand how the lack of paid sick leave can have adverse consequences on the public health,” Kingman said. “When someone is forced to go to work sick, it affects not only that person, but it affects all of their co-workers.”

The two bills being considered are similar, but one of them affects smaller businesses and includes tighter regulations.

A proposal from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration would force businesses with 50 or more employees to offer at least five days of paid time off “that can be used for any reason.” Employers with 49 or fewer employees would be eligible for a tax break if they chose to provide all of their workers with paid leave.

The other bill, backed by Democrats, requires businesses with 15 or more employees to have a “sick and safe leave” policy. Businesses would be required to offer at least seven paid days off, and there would be no tax break for smaller establishments.

It also lays out specific reasons for which employers must allow workers to use their earned time off, including “to care for or treat the employee’s mental or physical illness” and “to obtain preventive medical care for the employee or employee’s family member.”

D.C., along with seven states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — has laws that require paid sick leave.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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