Activists in Action: Legislative Briefing Aims to Advance Paid Leave Policy in Maryland
The halls of the Lowe House Office Building in Annapolis are quiet during the summer months. On June 19th, this hush was interrupted as policy advocates and organizers from across Maryland — a diverse set of individuals representing healthcare providers, senior and elderly care services, disability rights organizations, and youth and reproductive rights groups — filed into one of Lowe’s many rooms to discuss paid medical and family leave.
In the 2019 legislative session, these and other advocates crafted the Time to Care Act of 2019 (HB0341). This legislation establishes a Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program wherein employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid leave from their jobs to care for new children, other family members with serious health conditions or disabilities, or themselves. The program not only looks to cover all workers regardless of income level, but provides partial wage replacement for employees and expanding eligibility for benefits if for the following individuals:
If someone is caring for a newborn child or child newly placed for adoption or foster care; is caring for a family member (which is expanded beyond spouse or child) with a serious health condition or disability; is caring for a military service member who is next of kin; has a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform their job duties and; has a specified need resulting from the military deployment of a family member.
The bill received substantial support with 86% of Maryland voters favoring the creation of a family medical insurance program according to the Time to Care Coalition and OpinionWorks. Nevertheless, the bill did not survive beyond the walls of the Economic Matters Committee. This legislative briefing sought to lay the groundwork for 2020, creating a space for advocates and policymakers to reflect on the shortfalls of the 2019 session and what actions all those present could do to make Maryland the next state to adopt paid family and medical leave policies.
Moving Beyond 2019 and into 2020
In assessing the 2019 session, frustration with the legislative process and authentic support for the bill was palpable. Workers’ rights within the state of Maryland appears to be an often difficult and tumultuous topic for all parties involved and can be derailed simply by mistakes in the drafting of legislation or other bills. Such was the case for the Time to Care Act, as markedly different versions of the bill and the focus on legislation aimed to increase the minimum wage (Fight for 15), placed the Time to Care Act on the backburner.
However, with growing momentum to establish programs like those under the Time to Care Act, advocates identified that continued engagement of congressional leadership and the public may place this issue on the forefront of the Maryland General Assembly’s political agenda in 2020. Additionally, reinforcement of the need for a stronger, more well-defined bill would solidify votes and possibly support from the business community (often the most vocal opponent of such legislation).
In this briefing, the renewed hope for a successful legislative session in 2020 and the push for a community of activists that would not compromise on the protection of workers and equity in the workplace was inspiring.
Why Paid Leave Matters to the Reproductive Rights Movement
Comprehensive and progressive proposals to paid family and medical leave have been on the rise since 2018. States like California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, and the District of Columbia have either implemented or proposed legislation aimed at advancing paid leave. In a recent study by the National Partnership for Women and Families, PerryUndem and Bellwether Research & Consulting, voters across various age groups, racial identities, and party lines agree that those who work should have the ability to take paid time off for family or medical reasons. Federal policy like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 and proposals made by several presidential candidates have pushed the issue of paid family leave further into the electoral consciousness. So why is this an increasingly important issue for voters and reproductive rights activists?
Rising costs of care and limited or no availability of paid leave from employers results in many individuals second guessing whether to remain at work or take unpaid leave to care for themselves or their loved ones. The inability to earn paid leave has a particular impact on women, who often take on the majority of responsibility for caring for children, disabled relatives, and ailing older family members, and who make up almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers., 
For workers who need reproductive healthcare, a lack of paid leave can influence pregnancy and family planning decision making. Fear of losing one’s pay or job contributes to delays or the inability to confirm a pregnancy, receive prenatal care, or terminate a pregnancy. While protections for employees taking unpaid leave may have been made legal under FMLA, employees still face professional difficulties when needing time off to take care of their bodies, access preventative care, or address pressing sexual and reproductive health issues.
Additionally, current understandings of paid leave or family leave center the heteronormative nuclear family (married mother and father with children) within these debates and its implementation. Family or medical leave, however, should not be solely applied to those who are pregnant and working. Expanding the definition of family and where benefits can be applied supports families and individuals that may not be a biological parent (i.e. those seeking adoption or participating in foster care) or those caring for children past their infancy. This is especially important for those within the LGBTQIA+ community who may seek out an adoption or even alternative reproductive technologies to form their families.
Paid leave to care for a family member, a child, or an individual upholds reproductive justice and gender equity for all employees. Access to such programs should not be based on area code, income level, or job placement — it should be a right to all.
To learn more about the Time to Care Act and ways you can help advance paid leave legislation, please visit timetocare.net.
 §3 8.3–302. House Bill 0341. Maryland General Assembly., (2019). http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/Webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&stab=01&id=hb0341&tab=subject3&ys=2019RS
 National Partnerships for Women and Families (2018, October). Voters’ Views on Paid Family + Medical Leave. http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/workplace/paid-leave/voters-views-on-paid-family-medical-leave-survey-findings-august-2018.pdf
 Harper, A. (2019, May 22). Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand releases ‘Family Bill of Rights’ agenda. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Politics/sen-kirsten-gillibrand-releases-family-bill-rights-agenda/story?id=63184328
 National Partnerships for Women and Families (2018, October).
 National Women’s Law Center. (2018, August). Women and the Minimum Wage, State by State. https://nwlc.org/resources/women-and-minimum-wage-state-state/