County Council Opposes Possible State Limits on Sick and Safe Leave Bill

State law could limit counties’ ability to set policies


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The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday opposed potential statewide legislation that would mimic the county’s Sick and Safe Leave legislation, but would limit the companies that would be required to provide the benefits.

The county’s legislation covers all employers, although the amount of paid leave varies depending on the size of the business. Paid sick leave can be used for a number of reasons including illness, to care for a family member, or for providing child care if a school or day care is closed.

The county’s law took effect Oct. 1.

“What we feel is right for our county, don’t expect us to back off from that view,” council member Roger Berliner said at a council meeting called to discuss legislation to be introduced in the 2017 General Assembly, which starts Jan. 11.

The discussion started with council member George Leventhal marking his objections to the possibility of a statewide bill that would pre-empt the county’s ability to set its own policies. Critics of the county’s law say companies headquartered outside Montgomery that do business inside the county still would be required to provide the expanded benefits to their employees.

Leventhal said he wasn’t elected by voters in Kent or Garrett counties. “I don’t have a responsibility for the rest of the state,” he said.

County Executive Ike Leggett prefers a statewide solution to paid sick leave, Melanie Wenger told the council members. Wenger is the director of the county’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

Under the legislation the council passed in the summer of 2015, a county business with at least five employees must provide its workers with one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours that employee works, up to a maximum of 56 hours of earned paid sick leave annually. A business with less than five employees is also required to provide workers with one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours the employee works, up to a maximum of 32 hours in a year as well as 24 hours of unpaid sick leave.

The House of Delegates passed a bill during the 2016 General Assembly that would have provided similar benefits to companies with 14 or more employees, according to a report in the Daily Record. The measure would allow workers who regularly work eight hours a week or more to earn up to 80 hours of paid leave after their first 90 days on the job. Workers could carry over 56 hours of that leave but could only accrue a total of 80 hours in any year.

The bill would not have affected counties that already had its own paid sick leave laws.

The House bill did not pass the Maryland Senate.

Annapolis lobbyist Bruce Bereano said, in a telephone interview, the Montgomery statute is applicable statewide because it covers any company doing business in the county.

“There has been and will be a very strenuous effort this upcoming session when a sick leave bill is passed is to pre-empt all jurisdictions,” Bereano said. He is representing a number business, construction and floor-covering companies, as well as clients that operate locations in a number of counties in the state, he said.

Sen. Brian Feldman, a Potomac Democrat, is the only Montgomery County lawmaker that serves on the Senate Finance Committee, which will hear whatever bill is introduced next year.

During the 2016 session, Feldman said his committee considered a measure similar to what passed the House. An early straw vote went 6-5 in favor of passing the bill, then later one senator change his or her mind, making it 6-5 against passage. No formal vote was taken, Feldman said.

“My sense is … we’re likely going to want to pass a statewide bill, and the pre-emption will be front and center,” Feldman said.

Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton, a Southern Maryland Democrat who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he is trying to fashion a compromise by meeting with advocates and opponents of the legislation. He said wanted to introduce the legislation during the 2017 session.

Without the pre-emption, it could lead to a “hodgepodge” of local government rules, he said.

One of the suggestions has been to limit the legislation to companies with 50 or more employees, which would match rules for “Obamacare” medical insurance, Middleton said.

“Exempting businesses with 50 or less employees is a huge step backward,” Leventhal said at the council session.

Middleton allowed that the business community might support the legislation if it covered businesses with 50 or more employees.

“The risk that they run then is other counties like Prince George’s passing paid sick leave. That’s the worst nightmare the business community could have,” he said.

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