A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
One of the most far-reaching efforts of the legislative session will be aired at a Thursday legislative hearing, with dozens of people lined up to testify on both sides of a growing debate over paid family and medical leave in Maine.
Democrats are almost united on the proposal from Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, and Assistant House Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston. But Gov. Janet Mills has been silent for more than a week after it came out, and a business lobbyist has said the Democratic governor shared some industry concerns about the legislation.
The bill: Under the proposal, Maine would join 13 other states that have some form of paid leave. Most of them are funded by the type of payroll tax considered under this measure, which would be capped at 1 percent of wages split evenly between employers and workers. Employers under 15 workers would be exempt from their half, while workers at those firms would not have job protections when they use leave under the Daughtry-Cloutier plan.
This is a slight compromise in the direction of businesses when compared to a version from a state commission that studied the issue, as well as a proposed referendum from a coalition of progressive groups. They do not like the lack of job protections, but they are cheering Democrats along in their effort to move such a bill through the Legislature.
Point, counterpoint: The Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and HospitalityMaine came out in formal opposition to the measure this week, and business testimony against it from restaurant owners to the head of Marden’s Surplus & Salvage is now flowing in. However, expect to see a lot more supporters than opponents at today’s hearing.
Progressives are in the driver’s seat on the issue because of their threat to put a referendum on the 2024 ballot if they do not like any product that comes out of the Legislature. Daughtry has noted solid polling in Maine for the idea as part of an argument that paid leave is going to eventually be the law here.
What’s next: This makes passing paid leave a high-wire act for now. Mills’ silence makes it uncertain what she will accept. Business groups have seen little incentive to join the legislative effort. Daughtry and Cloutier came up with their proposal mostly alone, and those on both sides are going to want to alter it in their favor in a best-case scenario for the lawmakers.
All the while, a potential vote hangs over everybody’s heads. It’s a tough situation to make a law in, but the Democratic-led Legislature is going to try.