- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2016

ANNAPOLIS — Though only 6 years old, Vivienne Martin Mulkey is prepared to convince lawmakers that it is time for Maryland to become the seventh state that offers paid sick leave.

“When I get sick, I don’t want my mom to have to lose her job and not get paid because she has take care of me and stay at home,” Vivienne said Tuesday morning, fidgeting and playing with an empty bag of veggie chips as she bashfully leaned against her mother, Ruth Martin of MomsRising, a paid sick leave advocacy group.

Vivienne and about eight other children joined their mothers in Annapolis to lobby legislators to support a bill that would require businesses with at least 10 employees to provide up to seven paid sick days.

Clad in superhero capes and handing out tissue boxes — “everyone gets sick,” Ms. Martin said — the youthful crew clambered about the Maryland State House to persuade lawmakers to use their “superhero powers” to pass the bill.

This year marks the fourth time advocates have tried to pass the bill in Maryland, but they anticipate success this year because the bill has garnered co-sponsor signatures from the majority of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate.

“It’s personal. For a lot of people, when you’re a working parent, I know my kids get sick and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get paid every time I get sick,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of the Jobs Opportunities Task Force, a Baltimore nonprofit advocating for low-income workers. She said momentum for the bill had “grown exponentially” since the last time it was in Annapolis.

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Sponsored by Delegate Luke Clippinger, Baltimore Democrat, the bill would direct companies with at least 10 workers to provide them at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of labor. Businesses with fewer than 10 employees must offer at least an hour of unpaid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Failure to do so could result in state-imposed sanctions and labor lawsuits.

There is growing consensus in the state that paid sick leave should be mandated, Ms. Broome said, citing a 2015 University of Maryland/Washington Post poll showing that 83 percent of Marylanders support such a measure.

Supporters said paid sick leave is good public policy and would prevent sick employees from infecting co-workers and customers. Employers also would benefit if employees can see a doctor when they are ill rather than having their symptoms worsened by working.

Opponents of the bill — mostly business groups — said the bill stacks the odds against struggling small businesses hit hard by the recession that now have the added burden of providing salary to employees not working.

“The Maryland economy is barely beginning to recover from near economic disaster,” said Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “The last thing any of us need is another costly mandate to deter growth.”

The federation conducted a study exploring the economic costs of paid sick leave, estimating that the bill would result in the state losing $7 billion between 2017 and 2026. Nonpartisan legislative analysts estimated the impact for businesses at $419 per employee every year, and that roughly 550,000 Marylanders work for a business with more than nine employees but do not receive paid sick leave.

The service industry is expected to suffer the most under the proposal, such as restaurants with low-wage workers, because only 39 percent of service workers received paid sick leave in 2015, analysts said. Compared with 90 percent of state and local government employees having paid sick leave, only 61 percent of workers for private companies have it.

Opponents pointed to a January poll commissioned by the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Dealers Association showing that 73 percent supported paid sick leave, but that figure fell at the suggestion it would bring higher prices and fewer jobs.

Paid sick leave is in effect in California, Oregon, Massachusetts and Connecticut. A handful of states and counties have enacted laws as well, including the District, New York City and Maryland’s Montgomery County. Vermont recently approved paid sick leave, and is awaiting their governor’s signature.

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