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Maryland lawmakers eye paid family leave bill

State Sen. Antonio Hayes knocks on doors in West Baltimore while campaigning in 2018. Credit: Rachel Baye/WYPR
State Sen. Antonio Hayes, pictured campaigning in 2018, says paid family leave is long overdue. Credit: Rachel Baye/WYPR

Maryland lawmakers plan to sponsor a paid family leave measure next legislative session, now that President Biden’s effort to get a national version passed in his social safety net bill is in jeopardy.

The proposed legislation would create an insurance fund, to be administered by the state Department of Labor. Every paycheck, employers and employees who choose to participate would pay a small amount into the fund. Then when one of those employees has a baby, adopts a child, or needs to take care of a sick family member, they can earn a portion of their pay while taking up to 12 weeks of leave.

“The U.S. is the only industrialized country to not guarantee some form of paid family leave for workers, and I just think that is long overdue,” said state Sen. Antonio Hayes, the bill’s Senate sponsor, who represents a West Baltimore district.

For Hayes, the issue is personal. He said his grandmother, who raised him starting in middle school, has Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our roles have changed where, you know, she raised me when circumstances didn't allow my parents to do so, and now, you know, I'm providing a caregiver role along with a couple of other relatives to take care of her,” Hayes said.

Hayes said when he attends fundraisers for Alzheimer’s research, he hears similar stories from people “who don't necessarily have the time available to them through their employer to take off and take care of those responsibilities.”

And on a happier note, Hayes and his wife are also expecting their first child, a boy, in February, he said, which adds a new level of appreciation for the need for paid leave.

Hayes has sponsored similar bills for the last three sessions, but none have gained much traction. Still, he is optimistic about the bill’s chances this year, in part because of the recent national conversation about paid family leave, triggered by Congress’s consideration of the issue.

Not to mention, he said, the COVID-19 pandemic may have helped the cause.

“The pandemic itself elevated the need for such a leave, as people were struggling to figure out how they were going to take care of loved ones and still maintain their job at the same time,” he said.

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