Maryland General Assembly Gives Final OK to Democrats’ Sick Leave Bill

The General Assembly gave final approval to a bill that would extend paid sick leave to almost 700,000 Maryland workers, setting up a potential clash with Gov. Larry Hogan, who has threatened to veto the measure.

The House of Delegates approved the Senate version of the Democratic legislation by a veto-proof margin, sending it to the Republican governor.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

A Hogan veto would set up an override vote as one of the first items of business when the legislature reconvenes in an election year next January. Hogan promised last month to veto the bill, which he derided as “a partisan attempt to put points on the board to use against me in a campaign in 2018.”

Asked about the bill at an event in Baltimore Wednesday afternoon, Hogan was more equivocal.

“We’re dealing with the 27 bills they sent us,” he said. “They’re going to send us another thousand. We’ll have until May to talk about all those.”

The legislation, five years in the making, would require businesses with 15 or more full-time employees to let their workers earn at least five days of sick time a year.

Hogan had proposed a rival bill that would have applied to businesses that employ 50 or more workers in a single location. Democrats rejected that approach, saying businesses that large typically already provide employees with paid sick leave.

The governor’s bill would have offered tax credits for smaller businesses to offer such a benefit. Democrats said Hogan never explained how he would pay for the $60 million annual cost of the credit.

Republicans warned that the bill sponsored by Democrats would hurt small businesses and cause them to close their doors or move out of state.

The House voted 87-53 to approve the legislation. GOP delegates voted as a bloc against the bill. Three Democrats joined them. Another was absent Wednesday. It takes 85 votes in the House to override a veto.

The Senate passed the bill Monday, after amending it to reduce some burdens on businesses.

Where the House had proposed seven days of leave, the Senate changed that to five. The Senate also changed the average number of hours an employee needs to work per week to qualify from eight to 12, and extended the minimum number of days on the payroll to qualify from 90 to 106, a concession to employers who hire workers for seasonal jobs, such as those in Ocean City in the summer.

Similar legislation passed the House last year but got hung up in the Senate Finance Committee.

That panel’s chairman, Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton, convened a work group including businesses and advocates last summer. The group helped hammer out a more acceptable version of the bill.

With the Democrats’ proposal gaining momentum, Hogan weighed in late last year with what he billed as a “common sense” alternative. The measure won praise from Republican lawmakers, but business groups did not line up to support it.

Read the full article for more information.

City Council Won’t Attempt Override of Pugh’s $15 Minimum Wage Veto

The effort to raise Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is dead — at least for now.

Two weeks after the City Council backed the wage hike by a veto-proof majority, the bill’s lead sponsor said Monday she had failed to collect enough signatures to even attempt an override of Mayor Catherine Pugh’s veto.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

“It has been laid to rest,” City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said of the legislation, after acknowledging just six of her colleagues had joined her in trying to force a vote to override the veto. She needed 10 council votes to force an override attempt.

But Clarke said she wasn’t done fighting for a $15 minimum wage. She suggested she would try to launch a petition drive to place the matter before voters in the 2018 election.

“The fight for $15 goes on,” Clarke said.

Due to a little-known provision in city law and scheduling issues, council members needed to hold a special meeting within the next two weeks to attempt to override Pugh’s veto. But while 12 of the council’s 15 members supported the $15 minimum-wage legislation — the exact number needed to override a mayoral veto — just seven signed Clarke’s letter calling for a special meeting to do so.

Council members Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey, Bill Henry, John Bullock, Kristerfer Burnett and Shannon Sneed signed Clarke’s letter calling for a vote on the veto override. Five of the seven are freshmen on the council.

After Pugh said she was vetoing the bill, City Councilman Edward Reisinger announced he was withdrawing his support of it. And City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Robert Stokes said they would not sign Clarke’s letter forcing an override vote.

When running for mayor, Pugh told labor unions she would sign the $15 minimum-wage bill if it reached her desk. Pugh said she changed her position, in part, because of the budget problems she encountered after taking office in December, including a $130 million schools budget deficit she is trying to help close. The mayor allocated $22 million in her first budget proposal to help that effort.

The Pugh administration estimated the minimum-wage bill would cost the city $116 million over four years, including the expense of paying city workers a higher minimum wage. Some businesses said they would offset higher costs by raising prices, laying off workers, putting expansion plans on hold or looking for sites outside the city.

The vetoed bill, which would have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022, exempted workers younger than 21 and gave businesses with fewer than 50 employees until 2026 to comply.

Even with the veto, Baltimore’s minimum wage is increasing along with the rate statewide under legislation Pugh supported while in the state Senate. The rate in Maryland will rise to $9.25 on July 1 and to $10.10 a year later.

Pugh said advocates should focus on raising the wage at the state level. She said an economic imbalance between the wages of Baltimore and its surrounding counties could cause jobs to leave and unemployment to rise.

“We are on target to continue to raise the minimum wage,” Pugh said, noting the minimum wage will rise for the next two years. “The fight for $15 goes out to 2026. … We will be pushing just as hard as we can as at the state level. We may be past $15 by 2026.”

Useful Links

The Baltimore Sun Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Pugh Vetoes $15 Minimum Wage Bill

Pugh Vetoes $15 Minimum Wage Bill

Mayor Catherine Pugh vetoed legislation Friday that would have raised the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 by 2022, leaving the measure’s future in question.

The Baltimore City Council — which next meets on April 3 — would need 12 of its 15 members to vote to overturn the veto. On Friday, the 12-member coalition that originally backed the higher wage began to disband.

From The Baltimore Sun,

Councilman Edward Reisinger of South Baltimore said although he voted to pass the bill, he would not support a veto override. Over the next seven years, the Pugh administration estimated the bill would cost the city $116 million, including the expense of paying city workers a higher minimum wage.

Reisinger said the cost is especially concerning given the city’s outstanding fiscal challenges: a $20 million deficit, a $130 million schools budget shortfall and new spending obligations associated with the U.S. Department of Justice’s police consent decree.

“The mayor has some very persuasive arguments,” Reisinger said. “Baltimore City doesn’t have a money tree.”

Pugh also was concerned that requiring employers in the city to pay a higher minimum wage could send them fleeing to surrounding jurisdictions. That would worsen unemployment in the city and make it harder for low-skilled workers and ex-offenders to get jobs, she said.

She emphasized that Baltimore’s minimum wage is increasing along side the rate statewide. The rate in Maryland will rise to $9.25 on July 1 and $10.10 a year later.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the city that we follow the state,” Pugh said.

The City Council voted 11-3 to pass the minimum wage bill Monday. Councilman Brandon Scott also supported the measure but didn’t cast a vote because he was traveling overseas.

The pro-business Greater Baltimore Committee’s president, Don Fry, praised Pugh’s decision. The measure “threatened jobs, made Baltimore an island surrounded by counties with lower business costs and hit the city budget with millions of dollars in higher labor costs it simply cannot afford.”

“The decision was no doubt a difficult one for the mayor,” Fry said in a statement. “But this shows real leadership as she stayed true to the priority that Baltimore must remain competitive for growth and jobs.”

Advocates pushing for the higher wage decried Pugh’s action as a broken promise.

“We are deeply upset that Mayor Pugh has broken her campaign pledge by vetoing this legislation, which promises to give tens of thousands of workers higher wages and the opportunity to lead self-sufficient lives,” said Ricarra Jones, chairwoman of the Fight for $15 Baltimore Coalition, in a statement.

“As a state senator, Mayor Pugh was a strong supporter of a livable minimum wage and explicitly promised to sign the Baltimore wage bill as mayor. Today, she has made clear that promises are made to be broken. The voters will remember her turn-around.”

Jones noted that during last year’s campaign, Pugh said she would support a $15 minimum wage bill as mayor on a union questionnaire.

“Yes, I would. I am aware of the current initiative to raise the minimum wage in the City Council to $15 per hour and when it reaches my desk I will sign it,” Pugh wrote.

Asked Friday about her response to the questionnaire, Pugh said she has been faced with significant unanticipated expenses since taking office in December, including the schools budget deficit.

“I don’t think they make you swear on the Bible,” Pugh said. “They ask you if you would support it, and I do support it. But you ask me as a chief executive officer of this city what I would do as it relates to the conditions of the city currently, and where we are economically, I have a right and responsibility to respond on behalf of all of the citizens of this city.”

Pugh noted that legislation to increase the minimum wage statewide is before the General Assembly.

“While it may not take place this year or next year, I will follow the lead of the state,” she said.

Read the full article for more information.

Community College Collective Bargaining Bill Remains in Committee

Neither the Senate Finance Committee nor the House Appropriations Committee has taken action on a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all collective bargaining bill that would affect all Maryland community colleges. HB 871 / SB 652 failed to move prior to yesterday’s “crossover” deadline, and bills passed out from now on go to the Rules Committee of the second chamber, a procedural hurdle impeding their chances of final passage.

Counties oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 871 / SB 652, which limits local decision-making. The move to collective bargaining outlined in this bill could create potentially unsustainable costs for counties, who provide substantial funding for community colleges throughout Maryland – especially since the legislation does not envision any added State support.

From the MACo testimony,

Despite counties’ role in supporting community colleges, this legislation would not provide any opportunity for county governments to participate in collective bargaining negotiations. The combination of these effects – State-imposed system and costs, no county participation in bargaining, and no additional State funding – is simply not affordable as a statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties.

MACo opposed identical legislation in past sessions of the General Assembly. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Local Collective Bargaining Mandate Misses “Crossover” Deadline

A bill that would require all counties to extend collective bargaining rights to all of their employees – except for supervisory, managerial, or confidential employees, or elected or appointed officials, has not moved out of the House Appropriations Committee. HB 1370 failed to move prior to yesterday’s “crossover” deadline, and bills passed out from now on go to the Rules Committee of the second chamber, a procedural hurdle impeding their chances of final passage.

MACo opposed the bill, as it mandates a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all design that would expand collective bargaining rights in a third of Maryland’s counties.

From the MACo testimony,

Maryland county governments vary in many ways. They come in different forms of government, including charter, commission, and code home rule. They are different sizes, ranging from less than two hundred employees to more than ten thousand. And, they have different levels of collective bargaining rights. Some authorize collective bargaining for all the employees described in HB 1370, some have it for public safety employees, and others do not currently have collective bargaining agreements.

Requiring even Maryland’s smallest county governments and any municipal governments in Maryland that have more than 20 employees to authorize collective bargaining to almost all their employees will create a new administrative burden, and could also create additional personnel costs. The low threshold and broad application of HB 1370 puts pressure on some of the state’s smallest jurisdictions, which may be least able to accommodate additional administration and costs.

Useful Links

2016 Bill: HB 736

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Local Preemption Bill Dies in Committee

A bill that would prohibit counties and municipalities from increasing wages and benefits above state levels has died in the House Economic Matters Committee.

MACo opposed the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 317, which limits local decision-making. The preemption of local authority outlined in this bill would significantly undermine a local government’s ability to implement policies that reflect the diversity of local economies.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: MACo, Counties Defend Autonomy On Labor Issues

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Sick Leave Legislation Heading to Conference Committee

Both the House and Senate have passed sick and safe leave legislation with veto proof majorities. The bills would require Maryland employers to provide paid sick and safe leave for many of their employees. However, since SB 230 and HB 1 are not identical, the differences are likely to be worked out in a conference committee in the coming days.

The bill would also require county governments to provide sick leave to all employees. While county governments generally provide generous benefits, at a much higher rate than the legislation would require, MACo opposed the legislation, raising concerns about the bill’s potential effects on provision of emergency and essential services and with the bill’s broad requirements for providing leave to part-time, seasonal, and contractual employees in the same manner as full-time employees.

Useful Links

MACo testimony on SB 230

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

President Trump’s Budget Proposal Carries Big MD Effects

President Trump’s proposed federal budget has triggered a wide range of reactions, including some local concerns about effects on the Maryland workforce, environment, and numerous other areas. While federal actions are far from certain, this debate does carry over into the state political arena in several ways.

A Baltimore Sun article covers the story, with significant focus on federal funds for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, but touches on the wider picture as well:

In Maryland, a state where the economy is closely tied to federal spending, the $1.15 trillion budget could put thousands of civilian government employees out of work but also boost defense activity in the state. Urban development and road projects in Baltimore could be put on hold while additional money may be set aside for addiction treatment.

The proposal, which faces opposition in Congress, underscores the administration’s desire to limit the federal government’s reach into housing, the environment and safety-net programs, while vastly increasing investments in the military and homeland security — all of which reflect promises Trump made during his campaign.

The federal budget process is dramatically different than that in Maryland State government. While the state and many larger counties use what is often referenced as an “Executive Budget” system, where the General Assembly may cut but not add funding, the federal government’s budget process is more legislatively-driven. The President’s proposals represent the Administration’s priorities, but are not materially binding on the Congress. Debate on the budget plan, and the multiple appropriations bills that represent the federal budget, will extend for months.

Wide coverage of multiple news sources discussing the Maryland and political effects of the proposed budget can be found on the Maryland Reporter site, which offers a daily harvest of Maryland news and political coverage.

Senate Passes Sick Leave Bill With Veto-Proof Majority

The Senate has passed SB 230, “Labor and Employment – Maryland Healthy Working Families Act” with a veto-proof majority. The vote was 29-18. The bill would require Maryland employers to provide paid sick and safe leave for many of their employees.

The bill has significant differences from the House version and needs to be reconciled before it can be sent to Governor Hogan, who has promised to veto the bill. Most notably, the Senate version provides for 5 days of paid sick and safe leave, the House version provides for 7 days.

The bill would also require county governments to provide sick leave to all employees. While county governments generally provide generous benefits, at a much higher rate than the legislation would require, MACo opposed the legislation, raising concerns about the bill’s potential effects on provision of emergency and essential services and with the bill’s broad requirements for providing leave to part-time, seasonal, and contractual employees in the same manner as full-time employees.

Useful Links

MACo testimony on SB 230

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Proposed $15 Minimum Wage Would Have Costly Impact on County Budgets

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, submitted written testimony opposing the $15 minimum wage by 2023 (SB 962). Counties are concerned this legislation will have significant fiscal and operational impacts on local governments.

MACo’s testimony states,

Counties employ thousands of Maryland residents, including full-time, part-time, seasonal, and grant-funded employees. Full-time and grant-funded employees are generally paid on a salary basis. However, part-time and seasonal employees may be paid on an hourly basis. According to the bill’s fiscal note, raising the minimum wage in such a drastic fashion will cost local governments millions of dollars per year.

As a rule, MACo resists state policies that result in costly or burdensome local implementation. SB 962 would place a significant fiscal burden on county governments. Under state law, counties have no choice but to fund these costs – competing for limited local funds against education, public safety, roadway maintenance, and other essential public services.

Many part-time and seasonal employees work in community services, such as after-school activities, summer camps, and community services for vulnerable populations. Accommodating this legislation could result in significant cuts to those programs.

SB 962 was heard by the Senate Finance Committee on March 15, 2017. The cross-file, HB 1416, was heard by the House Economic Matters Committee on March 7, 2017. Click here for previous Conduit Street coverage.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 Legislative Session here.