Ocean City Today

Family leave bill passes, with adjustments

Tweaks throughout measure makes it more palatable for resort’s seasonal operations
By Brian Gilliland | Apr 13, 2017

(April 14, 2017) Though strongly opposed by resort business owners and officials, the Maryland Healthy Families Act was passed by a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly and now sits on Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk waiting for his signature or veto.

Should the governor decide not to endorse the legislation, it will still become law without his signature, and a veto probably wouldn’t even cause a delay before the provisions become active on Jan. 1, 2018. Should he veto it, lawmakers can vote to override his rejection when the next session begins on Jan. 8.

But the resort ended up getting a little bit of what it wanted.

Under the legislation, business owners with more than 14 employees are required to provide one hour of paid sick leave, at the rate the employee usually earns, for every 30 hours worked. Firms with fewer than 14 workers must provide one hour of unpaid leave for every 30 hours worked.

Employees can’t earn more than 40 hours of leave in a year, use more than 64 hours in a year, bank more than 64 hours total or use earned time during the first 106 calendar days worked.

Originally, the employee could earn, use and bank more hours, plus use the leave after only 90 days of employment.

Local leaders wanted a 120-day window to begin using the leave, for reasons Susan Jones, director of the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, makes obvious.

“People are open from Springfest to Sunfest,” she said.

While the law covers the Memorial Day to Labor Day span, the edges of the shoulder seasons are fast becoming more lucrative, because of events like Bike Week and Cruisin’ Weekend.

“People might open up later in the year — it’s possible,” Jones said. “Overall, we’re not happy in general terms, but we knew it would pass.”

Another tweak to the law requires employees who want to start using their leave between 107 and 120 days of employment to provide documentation, like a doctor’s note for the absence, thereby giving the resort its 120 days.

Jones credits Sen. Jim Mathias with negotiating the particulars of the compromise.

Mathias said he could have just been a “no” vote, but then he wouldn’t have had a say in how things proceeded, so he’d rather position himself as a “yes” vote with conditions.

“It’s about working families and breadwinners who get sick or provide a caregiving need,” he said. “I chose to apply myself to make a coherent argument, and it was accepted.”

Not that it was easy.

“It was tough, man. But I was able to achieve the primary need, and they understood our needs,” Mathias said.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who fought the measure on the house side, said she tried to push for the 120-day exemption for the second year in a row, but wasn’t able to bring it home.

“The OC season is from spring to September, conservatively, and that’s how you get to 120 days,” she said.

Since this and other amendments failed on her side of the legislature, Carozza said she had no choice but to vote against the bill.

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