I pondered how to begin writing what I knew needed to be said. And then it came to me – I will start with how this issue arises for most people.
I got sick.
Cancer turned my life upside down and forced me to stop, slow down, and reevaluate so much. This took time. I needed the sick leave that I receive through my job as a States’ Attorney. I was fortunate; many people are not.
It was during this process that what I already knew became crystallized. When I got sick, I did not have time for yet another task force or study. I knew internally that what my doctors were telling me was true. I needed to act and act swiftly to take care of the situation looking me right in the face. Because of the sick leave that I earned through my employer, I was able to immediately address my own health. Why shouldn’t Marylanders around the state have the same opportunity shared by Governor Hogan and I?
Over 750,000 Marylanders currently do not have the ability to take time off when they need to after working hard to support their families. This is wrong. My deep disappointment in Governor Hogan’s decision to veto this critical piece of legislation has not changed or waned. It won’t. The matter at hand is far too important for us to lose interest now. Too many Marylanders are trying to make ends meet and work their way out of poverty, and Governor Hogan has closed the door on some of those hopes. This is wrong.
A common sense proposal was offered last session and passed through both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. The Governor did not want to be involved in the debate. Instead, he came in after the show was over talking about yet another task force and executive orders. Marylanders don’t have time to study something that has already been researched and investigated. If the Governor and his staff had called, we could have shared this with them. We did the work and offered up a reasonable and realistic solution: The Healthy Working Families Act.
While the Governor professed his commitment to sick leave policies, he refused to sit down and do the work with us at any point during the more than two years that advocates, opponents, and legislators had worked on a solution. The need for this legislation was not some theoretical exercise. I continue to have conversations with people around Maryland caught between a rock and hard place. I have spoken with a mom just trying to get by and take care of her kids. I have talked to a young man caring for ailing senior parents. Sickness really touches us all at some point if we live long enough. A sickness unattended to can bankrupt a family. I have spoken with too many families that saw no choice; either go to work sick to put food on the table and delay taking care of themselves and their loved ones or risk losing their jobs. What kind of choice is this in the state of Maryland in 2017?
Faced with these real-life stories of sickness, pain, and loss, I can tell you, personally, that the answer is not going to be found in another task force. This is a task force that has not reached out to me or any of my colleagues that have dedicated so much time and effort to this issue. This is why sick leave can’t wait. Without sick leave, people stay sicker longer, which leads to emergency rooms visits that many cannot afford. If there were able to take the time they have earned to get well, they could get back to work. Maryland needs healthy workers giving their all. Under this legislation, employees would accrue sick leave as they work. It is an earned benefit, not a handout.
There is a reason the General Assembly passed this legislation with enough votes to override a potential veto. Legislators also realized that sick leave can’t wait. After we did the work of passing this legislation the Governor said he believed this benefit should be available to all hardworking Marylanders. I challenge the Governor that if he really believed this to be true, a phone call from him or his staff would have gone a long way in the process. But instead, he decided not have a seat at the table but rather to sabotage the effort after the fact. There is a reason House Speaker Michael Busch made sick leave House Bill 1. More than 8 out of 10 Maryland voters support allowing workers to earn paid sick days based on the number of hours they work.
In short, I believe a country like ours, in a state like Maryland, should consistently be judged by how we treat our neighbor. In this particular instance, you never know when you or your loved one will wake up one day and say, “I am sick.” This is why sick leave can’t wait. I am not interested in more political maneuvering to avoid doing the right thing for the families of Maryland. Marylanders need and deserve sick leave now. We must act now to protect the future of the 750,000 Marylanders that do not have the ability to make the best choice for their families; this is why sick leave can’t wait.