House Passes Statewide Paid Vacation Program

House Economics Chairman CT Wilson (D-Charles) defended a paid family leave bill on the floor of the House of Delegates Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The House of Delegates on Wednesday gave final approval to a paid family and medical leave program that would cover most Marylanders, but did not specify how much employers and workers would have to contribute until an analysis is complete. .

The Time to Care Act, sponsored by the senses. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), would offer Marylanders 12 weeks of partially paid family leave each year to care for themselves after a serious health condition and up to 24 weeks paid leave for new parents.

This has been a long time coming for Maryland, as state legislators have previously attempted to establish a paid family leave program, but instead created a task force to study and make recommendations to establish such a benefit. Over the past two years, however, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the need for paid job-protected leave, as normal childcare arrangements have collapsed and more and more people have had to care. sick family members.

If this measure becomes law, Maryland would join the other nine states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island – and the District of Columbia in offering paid family leave nationwide. of State.

“I think it’s a huge step for the people of Maryland,” Del said. CT Wilson (D-Charles), chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, which also reviewed the bill, in an interview after the final vote. “I really believe this is going to get more people into the workforce…that’s how we solve [the worker shortage] — by treating our workers better. This is how you give them value: by giving them benefits.

Advocates who have been fighting for paid vacation in Maryland for years praised the House for passing a program this year.

“This is a very strong piece of legislation that reflects great thought on this very important issue, and it’s a very proud moment for those of us who have long supported it,” said Clinton Macsherry, Director of public policy for Maryland. Family Network and part of the Time to Care Coalition.

Under this bill, depending on their salary, Marylanders — who have worked part-time or full-time for at least 680 hours in the last year — would receive a partial salary replacement of between 50 and $1,000 a week while on leave. This insurance program would be funded by both employers and workers, with the exact contribution of each to be determined from a cost analysis conducted by the Department of Labor once every two years from the end of of this year.

Specifically, the Ministry of Labor would be required to determine the premium rate and cost sharing between employers and workers to ensure a solvent paid family insurance program. The first study will be completed by December 2022, intentionally before the start of the next legislative session to give lawmakers time to fine-tune the program before employers and workers are required to start contributing to the fund in October 2023. .

The Senate had passed a bill that required workers to contribute 75% of program costs and employees to pay 25%, but under the amended bill, cost sharing could be anywhere between a 75/25 split, with workers paying more and a 25/75 split with workers paying less, according to Labor Department analysis.

Establishing a statewide paid family leave program appeared to be on the move after the Economic Issues Committee voted to approve House Bill 496, which would have reduced the law on the care time to a commission that would instead make recommendations on the details of statewide paid leave with the “intent” to implement a program next year.

But on Wednesday, the House passed the Senate bill that would allow Marylanders to start receiving benefits in January 2025. Wilson said he was able to incorporate much of what he wanted that a commission is studying in the analysis of the costs of the Department of Labor under the Senate. bill “to make sure we don’t run to the finish line before we’re ready.”

“I thought that somehow the Senate was trying to build the plane while they were flying it,” he continued.

Macsherry said he thought it was “quite appropriate for the General Assembly to ensure that we get [paid family leave] just before they commit to it.

However, Republican delegates said mandating paid time off would hurt employers, especially small business owners who may not be able to easily find a replacement. Of the. April Rose (R-Carroll) proposed an amendment that would have allowed employers to deny a claim for benefits if the worker’s absence “would cause demonstrated harm to the employer.” The Senate had included this provision, but deleted it before the bill was finally passed.

“If it’s a small business of 15 or 16 people, they could have any number of employees who use this benefit and are gone, and that can be very financially devastating for that business,” said Rose said.

The Chamber had added provisions to protect small businesses by excluding employers with 14 or fewer employees from the obligation to contribute to the paid holiday insurance fund. However, their employees would still be eligible to participate.

Under this measure, employers could lay off workers if their absence causes significant economic harm to the company, which would mean that the worker could no longer receive benefits from the family leave insurance program and would become eligible for unemployment. “We understand that there are circumstances beyond employers’ control,” Wilson said.

“Then it looks like it would be up to an employer to fire the employee we’re trying to furlough and put him on the unemployed list, but he just lost his job,” Rose said.

Wilson said any “decent, hard-working business owner” would understand the difficulty of retraining employees and would not prefer to lay off their employees. Rose’s amendment failed in a 40-92 vote.

“This bill has been described as an anti-business bill – we already have many small business owners doing this, it’s not anti-business,” said MP Kriselda Valderrama (D-Prince George’s), the godmother of the house. – Senate bill file. “This helps improve retention and productivity and boosts labor market participation.”

The House also added a provision to the measure that would require employees to exhaust all paid leave granted by their employer before they can claim benefits from the paid family leave insurance fund.

Of the. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery) introduced an amendment that would ensure job protection while employees take their employer-provided leave before the 12 weeks of paid leave established under this bill. It was passed as a friendly amendment.

Of the. Susan Krebs (R-Carroll) asked if this program would encourage employers to stop offering paid time off that they otherwise would if they knew their employees would have to be covered by the state insurance plan.

If employers offered a paid vacation plan comparable to what would be established under the Time to Care Act, they would be exempt from contributing to the state insurance fund, Wilson said.

Some lawmakers have raised concerns about whether the Department of Labor could manage this insurance program, after the department experienced a backlog of unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic and reportedly placed thousands of claimants under investigation. for fraud without confirming their identity in a timely manner.

The House amended the bill to include a provision that requires the Department of Legislative Services to make recommendations about the Department of Labor’s ability to administer the statewide paid family leave program.

Republican lawmakers also challenged the estimated $1.4 billion assessments the insurance fund must meet before Marylanders can begin receiving benefits. Of the. Johnny Mautz (R-Middle Shore) called the bill a “billion dollar payroll tax.”

Republican lawmakers proposed a total of 14 amendments, including one that would have reduced paid vacation time to eight weeks a year, one that would have allowed employees to opt out of the program, and another that would have excluded temporary workers from participating in the program. program .

All Republican amendments failed except one by Del. Teresa Reilly (R-Harford) who would require the Department of Labor to develop “standard notices” for an employer. Employers must provide written notice of each employer’s rights when hiring, under this bill.

Business organizations have denounced the passage of the bill, saying it will hurt small business owners.

“It is incredibly disappointing to see the House of Delegates pass a payroll tax at a time of record inflation and rising prices on everything from a loaf of bread to a gallon of gasoline,” said Mike O ‘Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a statement. “Lawmakers are telling small businesses and their employees to stretch their paychecks even further at a time when they can least afford it.”

The amended care time law is set to go to the Senate Finance Committee for approval, as lawmakers rush to send the bill to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) by Saturday so they can strike down a Governor’s veto before the end of the 90-day legislative session on April 11.

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