Family Medical Leave Insurance Legislation Gets First Airing of Session

(Left to right) Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George's), Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) are the chief sponsors of paid family leave legislation. Photo by Hannah Gaskill

Legislation to create a paid family leave insurance fund for all businesses in Maryland was brought before the House Economic Matters Committee Monday. 

Del. Kris Valderrama (D-Prince George’s) presented the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program, which would guarantee workers up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement should they need to take a leave for personal or familial reasons. 

The funding would come out of an insurance pool financed by a payroll tax paid in equal part by the employee and their company. If enacted, a small amount of money would be pulled from employee paychecks each week and matched by company revenue in a fund that would give partial pay to employees who need to step away from work.

Proponents of the bill say that the Family and Medical Leave Insurance the bill would initiate isn’t dissimilar to the makeup of the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Paid family leave plans are currently in place in eight other states and the District of Columbia.

Valderrama said the legislation has been discussed for about a decade. The bill’s cross-file, sponsored by Sen. Antonio L. Hayes (D-Baltimore City), will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee later this week.

Valderrama said she is a member of the “sandwich generation” — the current generation of adults who have been tasked with taking care of both their minor children and aging parents. She told her fellow lawmakers this bill could have helped her family through its own trying time.

During a news conference held late last month to announce her intent to propose this legislation, Valderrama tearfully told her own story of struggling with an ex-employer when she needed to take time off to care for her aging mother. 

“Had this legislation been in place … it would have been very helpful during that time,” she said before the Economic Matters Committee Monday. “But my story isn’t unique, and someone you know also has this story and would be helped by this legislation.”

Testifying in support of the bill was Owings Mills resident Tanya Brice, who, in 2015, moved her chronically ill mother into her home. For a social worker and mother of three — including to a son with special needs — this brought a number of personal and financial challenges.

“Finding assisted living facilities, home health care — all of that to make sure that she was safe meant that I had to take time off,” Brice said.

Two years later, her mother was moved to an assisted living facility where she stayed for less than a month when it was revealed that her diet consisted solely of syrup and bread sandwiches. 

Brice moved her mother back into her family’s home, along with her ventilator and other medical equipment — a process that in and of itself was taxing on her time and wallet.

“I needed that paycheck or I couldn’t have afforded to do any of the things that my mom needed — much less buy food, pay BG&E and all of the things that we have to do,” she said to the committee.

“I would do anything for my family, and needless to say, the paid family leave would make a huge difference.”

Brice’s mother died of a heart attack last November. Her story was featured earlier this month in a piece in The New York Times.

Largely showing in opposition to the bill were Human Resources representatives and members of different chambers of commerce.

Employment lawyer Fiona Ong said that the legislation’s language is vague and steps in the business’ way in the decision-making process when approving or investing possible fraudulent leave.

Ashley Duckman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce appeared in opposition to the bill. She said that she was approached by proponents of the bill this last year to propose changes that would be “palatable” to the business community, prompting her to create a workgroup comprised of stakeholders to flesh out ideas.

Duckman said the benefits mentioned throughout the afternoon are “needed and absolutely worth discussing and exploring,” but that the recommendations her workgroup put together after seeing the bill’s draft were not included.

“Unfortunately none of that feedback — none of that feedback — is incorporated in the draft that you see before you today,” she said.

Duckman further said she appreciates Valderrama’s willingness to continue to have conversations about how to move forward with a bill that would weigh everyone’s needs.

Valderrama said during the hearing that she was not a part of the workgroup meetings, but that she has since met with Duckman to discuss the legislation.

Despite having 62 House cosponsors, not everyone is in favor of the bill. 

Several lawmakers questioned panels in favor of the legislation about why this needs to be made law if businesses can already implement this practice on their own. 

“Is there something in the law that says you can’t do this now?” asked Del. Seth A Howard (R-Anne Arundel) of a testifying panel. “I’m a little confused about why you need this law to do this.”

Panelist and bill proponent Regan Vaughan of Catholic Charities of Baltimore responded that there is nothing currently stopping any businesses from doing this independently other than affordability. 

In turn, Valderrama asked Vaughan if she thought that if it remained out of the scope of state law if it would be adopted by other business owners. 

“I think if you look at the numbers now it’s not in state law and we are not seeing widespread use of it,” she said.

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.