In setback for lawyers, House committee plans to create commission on paid family leave

Photo by Kohei Hara/Getty Images.

Lawmakers started the legislative session considering a measure that would provide paid family and medical leave to all Marylanders, but a key House committee is now considering creating a commission instead that would work out the finer details of the plan. statewide paid family and medical leave. insurance program.

As originally presented, House Bill 496, sponsored by Dels. CT Wilson (D-Charles), Kriselda Valderrama (D-Prince George’s) and Ariana Kelly (D-Montgomery), would have allowed all Marylanders, part-timers and full-timers who worked 680 hours during the past year, take 12 weeks of paid leave following childbirth or to take care of herself or a member of her family with serious health problems.

Under the original bill, workers would have received partial wage replacement between $50 and $1,000 per week, depending on their wages. The program would work by establishing a statewide family leave insurance program, which would include premiums — split equally between an employee and an employer. However, self-employed individuals and employers with 14 or fewer employees would not be required to contribute to the fund.

But Wilson, the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, recently introduced an amendment that would delete the entire bill as originally presented and replace it with a committee that would make recommendations on the details of a statewide paid family leave program, such as employment eligibility. , when contributions must begin, the cost-sharing formula between employers and employees and any other aspect that the commission deems relevant.

Wilson defended this proposal as a necessary prudent step to ensure the state can afford such a program.

“It’s not a delaying tactic – we’re not trying to throw the box down the road. We have an obligation here as elected officials and that’s to create good policy…not to jump at the first thing that happens to us,” Wilson told the committee on Monday.

HB 496 was on the Economic Affairs Committee’s list of bills for a vote on Monday, but Wilson said the committee would vote on the measure and its proposed amendment on Wednesday.

For advocates, the proposed amendment is a repeat of what happened in 2016. At the time, the legislature tried to pass a bill to establish a paid family leave program, but it also been enfranchised to a working group to study and make recommendations to establish such a program. program. In its 2017 report, the task force recommended that a paid family leave program in Maryland be self-funding and include benefits for low-wage and part-time workers.

“We vehemently oppose an amendment that would delay this process another year for a completely unnecessary study – this issue has been studied to death,” said Clinton Macsherry, director of public policy for the Maryland Family Network. “I think it’s really dishonest for a legislative body to say we’re going to pass it this year and then actually pass another study group.”

But Wilson argued that this commission is different from the task force created in 2016.

“It was 2017, so that was quite a long time ago,” Wilson said. “I’m serious and intentional about this bill, but I want to make sure we take things into consideration when it comes to the timing of inflation, gas, food and stuff. this nature.”

Of the. Lily Qi (D-Montgomery) argued that this bill is “not just a study bill,” but a decision to take into account the new economic dynamics of the past two years since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more and more people are working from home and some have left the state to work remotely, so it is essential to determine which state law should apply to whom and which industry will be most affected by a paid family leave warrant, Qi continued.

Minority Whip Christopher Adams (R-Middle Shore) said it’s important for any commission to study existing federal and state furlough mandates to ensure business owners are not overburdened.

The amended bill states that the intent of the legislature is to set aside funds in the fiscal year 2023 budget to implement a paid family and medical leave insurance program that will be available to residents of Maryland beginning in January 2024, according to the recommendations of the commission.

But that turnaround is aggressive and putting the program in check, said Myles Hicks, campaign manager for Time to Care Maryland. He estimated that it will take at least 18 months of contributions for the program to become solvent.

Hicks also took issue with the composition of the commission, which he said left out advocates for children, mothers, seniors, people with disabilities and nonprofit employers – who he said would benefit most. a paid family leave program.

The amended bill calls for a committee comprised of lawmakers, state officials, business representatives, a national organization specializing in family medical insurance and leave programs, a union representative from private sector, a community organization advocating for working families and an economist.

House and Senate lawmakers are heading in different directions on the much-sought legislation.

The Senate cross file, sponsored by the senses. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), was changed on the Finance Committee to change the split of dues between workers and employers from an equal split to an 80- 20, employees contributing more to the fund.

If the premium were split equally, the cost that a worker earning $52,000 and that worker’s employer would have to contribute would be $3.35. But if the contribution were split 80-20, the cost to the worker would be $5.36 per week, according to Time to Care Maryland.

Wilson criticized this Senate amendment as untenable for Marylanders, especially if the state mandates a paid family leave insurance fund and does not let anyone opt out.

Earlier this month, Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) predicted at a press conference that paid family leave would be passed by both houses of the legislature this year.

The Senate version of the bill could go to committee for a vote later this week.


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