Thursday, April 13, 2017

Final Update – Maryland General Assembly 2017

And the votes are in………

Wow. Kind of a surprising session this year. It started off quite active in terms of employment law/workplace regulation, seeing returns of many bills presented repeatedly over the last several years, but ending with only one significant bill being passed – almost. More on that below.

We saw returns of so-called "predictive scheduling" laws, minimum wage increases, attempts to bring the failed federal overtime minimum salary increase to Maryland. All of those efforts failed to make it out of committee.

Just like the old saying that we don’t really want to know how sausage is made, many of us probably don’t know, or want to know, the whys and wherefores of how and what laws gets passed. I find it fascinating, however. This session left me with more questions than usual.

The first (and probably most obvious) question is why so many bills were proposed but failed to get much attention at all in committee? The easy answer would be that the legislature was focusing all its attention on getting the paid sick leave bill passed – even at the expense of one of the two minimum wage bills. Neither minimum wage bill received much discussion and didn’t progress through committee to the degrees of the past, despite all the marches, protests and "fight for fifteen" events around the state and around the country. Did they lose their appetite for this movement? Hard to know. 

Events in Baltimore City surrounding raising the minimum wage there to $15.00/hour by 2022 highlighted an interesting situation. While the Baltimore City Council did indeed pass that law for the city, Mayor Pugh vetoed it, saying she felt putting Baltimore City in a "donut hole" relative to surrounding jurisdictions would be detrimental and she would rather see such a change coming at a state level. But…………..when an effort was made by some council members to call for a special meeting to override her veto – they couldn’t get enough council members to sign on, therefore killing the law at least for this year. Given the hue and cry from the council for quite some time over this issue, I have to wonder why they couldn’t pull it together enough to force the meeting and override the veto. When push came to shove, they …..dodged. Might there be a hint in this concerning actions at the state level?

Both minimum wage bills in General Assembly failed. One – raising the minimum to $12.50/hour, received an unfavorable report in committee and was withdrawn. The other, raising the minimum to $15.00/hour and eliminating the tip credit for tipped employees, died in the Senate Finance Committee – no action. Hmmmmmm.

Passing laws to prohibit employers from seeking salary history information from applicants has increased this year (Philadelphia, New York City, and Massachusetts among them). A bill presented here in Maryland this year was expected to get at least a fair amount of discussion, if not actually passed. Instead, it fell pretty flat.

Two "predictive scheduling" bills were presented too late in the session and were referred to the respective Rules committees as is procedure when a bill is presented after the normal deadline. This step is often a formality and the bills are passed through. Not the case with these bills. They languished in the Rules committees. Both of these bills were amended from prior years and now specifically targeted the retail establishment rather than all employers. 

Now we get to the paid sick leave bill. You’ve heard all the speeches, all the politicians, celebrities and others (most of whom have no idea of what it’s like to run a business, by the way)? You’d have to be pretty oblivious to have missed all of this by now. So, two bills were presented this year (two seems to be the preferred number of options here in Maryland). The Governor’s submission – calling for 5 paid leave days (not just sick leave), applying to businesses with 50 or more employees – didn’t get any discussion whatsoever. They simply ignored it. The state Democrats fought over their own bill – see the summary here

So, this bill sat around in both the Senate and the House committees for at least a couple of weeks. Presumably, they were talking back and forth about how to reconcile the two versions (and they were different). But, you would think that based on how important they felt it was to get people covered with paid sick leave, they would have acted a bit quickly. Instead, they didn’t (it appears) make the final decision to put the Senate version to a full vote until it was too late to override the expected veto – during the current session. Assuming the Governor vetoes this bill – and he has promised to do so – they will have to wait until January to vote to override. What kept them from getting it out in time for the Governor to register his veto, and for them to vote to override?

Interesting question. In order to override a veto in Maryland, our state constitution calls for 3/5 of both houses to vote for the override. The House passed the bill with a small cushion of 2-3 votes. However, the Senate passed the bill with the exact number it needed – 29. In other words, if there is even one defection, they will not be able to override the Governor’s veto. A lot can happen between now and the third week of January 2018. Does the loss of appetite in the Baltimore City council for the minimum wage bill hint at what may happen? When push comes to shove in January, will the votes be there for paid sick leave?

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