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Paid sick leave gets veto-proof majority in state Senate

Rachel Baye

The state Senate passed paid sick leave legislation with a veto-proof majority Thursday, just one day after Gov. Larry Hogan promised to veto it.

This is the fifth consecutive year state lawmakers have introduced a paid sick leave bill, but the first time it has passed the full Senate. Last year, it died on the last day of the General Assembly’s 90-day session.

“We’re really excited to see that a bill’s moving forward,” said Liz Richards, director of the Working Matters Coalition, the lead advocacy group that has been fighting for the measure. “Working Matters, our coalition of 160 faith, labor, community groups and businesses have been fighting for this for years, so this is a huge victory.”

Earlier this month, the House passed a different version of sick leave. The main difference between that bill and the one the Senate passed Thursday is that the House bill requires businesses with 15 or more workers to give full-time employees at least seven paid days off a year. The Senate cut that to five.

That and other changes, such as how soon after starting a job workers can take a sick day or when employers can require a doctor’s note, were meant to buffer the bill’s impact on small businesses.

But during Thursday’s floor debate, Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said the changes aren’t enough.

“Just because somebody owns a business, they’re not a millionaire,” he said. “These smaller companies, the last person to get paid is usually the owner. … After they pay their employees’ paychecks, everything else, at the end of the day, if they have any money, they take it home. Most don’t make much money.”

Other opponents of the bill — mostly Republicans — said it could increase the prices of local products and services or cost the state jobs.

But supporters said paid leave will prevent people from going to work sick or from sending their kids to school sick.

Sen. Victor Ramirez, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said his mother has long preached the benefits of paid leave.

His mother used to rub Vicks VapoRub, a gel intended to treat coughs, all over her body, he said, explaining that, “in my family, Vicks works for everything,”

“She said, ‘You used to ask me why am I putting Vicks all over my body, why did you put Vicks all over?’” Ramirez recalled on the Senate floor. “She said, you know, ‘When I used to leave in the morning and you used to see me putting Vicks, morning and night, it’s because of that — because there was times when I wish I could have stayed home, and I couldn’t.’ And I said, you know, ‘But why?’ She said, ‘Because if I didn’t go to work, two things would happen:  I wouldn’t get paid or I would lose my job.’”

The bill the Senate passed now moves on to the House. Meanwhile, the House’s version had a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday. Either the House or the Senate has to pass the other’s version, or legislators will work out differences in a conference committee before the bill goes to Hogan.

And Hogan doesn’t like either version.

“If either of these job killing bills reaches my desk, they are dead on arrival,” he said Wednesday during a press conference. “I will veto them immediately.”

Not so fast, said Senate President Mike Miller.

“We had 29 votes here on the floor of the Senate, so they might not be dead at all,” he said. The body needs 29 votes to override a gubernatorial veto.

The House also passed the bill with more than enough votes to override a veto.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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