Friday, May 23, 2008

O’Malley signs leave measure

Business groups had urged veto of bill requiring paid leave for those with illness in family

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Gov. Martin O’Malley, in his final bill-signing day for this legislative session, spurned the pleas of the state’s most powerful business lobbies.

O’Malley on Thursday signed into law the Flexible Leave Act, which the Maryland Retailers Association, Maryland Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business all opposed.

The measure, which takes effect Oct. 1, will require private companies that offer paid time off to allow employees to use it without notice if they have a sick family member.

‘‘We knew it would be an uphill battle,” said Thomas Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. ‘‘But we think our efforts will set the groundwork for some possible revisions to the law next year. We’d like to see some clarifications and tightening up of the law.”

The law could have a ‘‘potential meaningful” effect on businesses that offer paid leave, according to an analysis by the state Department of Legislative Services. The bill does not affect companies that do not offer paid leave benefits.

Last month, O’Malley signed another bill related to leave that was supported by the Maryland chamber. The law, which is retroactive to cover employees who were terminated after last Nov. 1, allows employers the right not to pay accrued leave that is unused if the company has a written policy to that effect that is communicated to employees in advance.

Small businesses ‘‘could be positively affected” by the law, according to a state legislative analysis. ‘‘The bill could reduce an employer’s liability in compensating an employee at termination of employment, provided that the employer establishes a written policy regarding payment of accrued leave,” the report says. ‘‘It is expected that this will apply in a relatively limited number of circumstances.”

O’Malley also signed a measure effective Oct. 1 to require state entities that manage funds, such as the State Treasurer and the State Retirement and Pension System, to try to use minority-owned brokerages.

The law could be significant to minority-owned companies, according to a state legislative analysis. As of last June, assets in the state retirement system totaled $39.4 billion, while the Treasurer’s investment portfolio stood at $7.6 billion in January.

Another new law, also to take effect Oct. 1, will require recipients of grants and loans greater than $500,000 from programs run by the Department of the Environment to try to include minority-owned companies in their projects.

Another bill signed by O’Malley will add a 2 percent price preference for veteran-owned small businesses and a 3 percent price preference for disabled veteran-owned small businesses to existing price preferences under the state’s Small Business Preference Program. The law, effective July 1, also increases the maximum small-business price preference for any procurement from 5 percent to 8 percent.

The law is not expected to have much impact on state funds because it applies to only certain state agencies, such as the departments of General Services and Transportation. In fiscal 2006, the transportation department awarded 14 contracts with a total value of $81,156 under the program, while general services awarded four contracts valued at $226,377.