A statewide paid family and medical leave program got final legislative approval in the Senate on Thursday evening, sending the measure to the governor in time for a potential in-session veto override before the session ends on April 11.
The Time to Care Act, sponsored by Sens. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) and Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s), would offer Marylanders 12 weeks of partially paid family leave each year to care for themselves or a loved one after a serious health issue and up to 24 weeks of paid leave for new parents.
Depending on their pay, Marylanders — who worked either part-time or full-time for at least 680 hours in the last year — would receive a partial wage replacement of between $50 and $1,000 a week during their leave. This insurance program would be funded by employers and workers, with the exact contribution from each to be determined from a cost analysis completed by the Department of Labor once every two years starting later this year.
“This has been a long time coming,” Hayes said, after the 31-15 vote. “I know philosophically there are some differences on how we get there, but I believe that we should be really, really proud of the work that we did this legislative session.”
On Wednesday, the House of Delegates made changes to the Time to Care Act, which now requires a cost analysis to determine the contribution rate (or the amount deducted from payrolls) and the cost-share between employers and workers to ensure that the program would be solvent.
The first study would be completed by December 2022, intentionally before the next legislative session begins, in order to give lawmakers time to tweak the program before employers and workers are required to start contributing to the fund in October 2023. Employees can start claiming benefits in January 2025, under the proposal.
Still, Republican senators contended that the House had made significant changes to the bill, leaving questions over the details of the program that warranted more time to review.
Earlier Thursday, some members of the Senate Finance Committee expressed confusion about the House changes to the bill but voted for it anyway.
“This is a hot mess, but I’m going to vote yes,” said Sen. Malcolm Augustine (D-Prince George’s).
Sen. Pamela Beidle (D-Anne Arundel) conceded that the bill was a “hot mess,” but also voted to concur.
Sen. Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County), who chairs the committee, voted against concurrence in committee.
“It’s clear that we aren’t going to have time to resolve this,” Kelley said.
The Finance Committee voted 6-5 to concur with the House amendments.
And Kelley voted for the bill on the Senate floor on Thursday evening.
Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said that the House had made “major changes.” Now, he said, the bill “wipes away some very clear guardrails” of the paid leave program, which he called “a payroll tax.”
“There are a lot of unanswered questions with this bill,” Ready said.
However, Hayes said that 95% of the amended bill is the same legislation that the Senate had passed two weeks earlier.
The major House change to the Senate bill simply provides an opportunity to analyze specifics of a statewide paid leave program and set up the framework before employers and workers are required to start contributing into the insurance fund in October 2023, Hayes said.
The Time to Care Act now exempts employers with fewer than 15 workers from contributing to the insurance fund, which Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire said could cause solvency issues. Hayes said that the number of employers exempted is not a significant.
Simonaire said the legislation was moving through the General Assembly too fast, before lawmakers had time to understand the framework and cost of the program.
“We probably should have passed a bill called Time to Plan instead of Time to Care,” Simonaire said.
Hayes said the purpose of the cost analysis required by the bill is to get informed estimates, before the next legislative session, so that lawmakers can make adjustments to the program.
Advocates congregated outside the Senate chamber after the vote, celebrating the bill’s passage. “This has been a labor of love for over seven years,” said Myles Hicks, campaign manager of the Time to Care Coalition.