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Maryland Democrats, GOP Governor, Sparring Over Sick Leave

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Democrats on Thursday criticized Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's task force on paid sick leave for a lack of open meetings, but the governor's office said it has been reaching out to small-business owners and employees and will have a report in December.

The issue of enacting a law to require earned sick leave in Maryland has been a major point of contention between the Democratic-led Legislature and the Republican governor. It continues to be a heated political issue as the governor and members of the General Assembly head into an election year in 2018.

Kathleen Matthews, the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, held a conference call Thursday with sponsors of a bill Hogan vetoed in May. Matthews said she was filing an open meeting complaint with the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board to understand why meetings of the governor's task force haven't been publicized or whether they are meeting at all. Hogan announced the task force after he vetoed the bill, saying he supported paid sick leave but opposed provisions in the measure for being too hard on small businesses.

Democrats say he's just posturing.

"This is just another act in his smoke-and-mirrors campaign where he can try and seem like he generally supports sick leave without actually doing anything at all," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill.

But Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the administration has heard from more than 1,000 small-business owners and employees. Mayer said Kelly Schulz, the secretary for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, has been meeting with small-business owners personally, rather than holding meetings in Annapolis.

"We did it that way so Secretary Schulz could have one-on-one meetings with people, so people could be free to discuss how they really feel about a really sensitive issue that has been unfortunately overtly politicized," Mayer said.

Mayer also criticized Democrats for "trying to score political points, rather than reach compromise and negotiate with the administration."

"Why else would they engage the Maryland Democratic Party?" Mayer said.

Democrats countered that the Hogan administration hasn't made any effort at compromise on an issue that has been debated for years in Annapolis.

"I've been amazed by this whole entire lack of participation with the governor's people on this very, very important issue," said Sen. Thomas "Mac" Middleton, a Charles County Democrat who chairs the Senate committee that passed the bill.

The measure vetoed by the governor would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five days of earned paid sick leave. Democrats say a veto override will be a priority next year. The General Assembly passed the bill with enough votes to override the veto next year, if everyone who voted for it supports the override.

Hogan submitted his own proposal last year that would have required companies with more than 50 employees to provide paid sick leave. The proposal also encouraged small businesses to offer paid sick leave by providing tax incentives to offset those benefits. While he opposes the bill passed by lawmakers, the governor says he's still open to supporting an alternative paid sick leave law.

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(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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