By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) —  Advocates and lawmakers voiced their support Thursday for the “Time to Care Act,” which establishes paid family and medical leave for Maryland workers.

The insurance program allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave in Maryland. It is funded through a state-administered insurance pool into which employees and employers contribute, according to a fact sheet.

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“Maryland workers shouldn’t have to choose between the job they need and the family they love, and that’s why we need a strong paid family leave program,” said Myles Hicks, campaign manager of the Time to Care Coalition

The Time to Care Act is different from sick days and the existing Family Medical Leave Act, most notably because this bill is geared towards longer-term absences from work and provides partial wage replacement.

Both of the bill’s Democratic congressional sponsors, State Sen. Antonio Hayes and Del. Kris Valderrama, spoke about their personal experiences in taking time off to help sick family members.

“The research is clear. Paid family leave is good for parents, it’s good for workers, it’s good for children development and it’s good for our economy,” Sen. Hayes said.

Valderrama held back tears as she spoke about caring for her now deceased mother and the “interrogation” she endured at work because of all the leave she was using.

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If the legislation passes, Maryland would join nine other states and the District of Columbia, which already established paid family and medical leave laws.

“The vast majority of Maryland workers are not covered by a paid family and medical leave program, meaning they must take time off from work without pay to care for a sick loved one, welcome a new child or deal with a military deployment,” Hayes said.

Benefits like a paid leave program help to attract and keep good employees, said Andy Shallal, CEO of Busboys and Poets restaurants.

“Workers care about pay, but they also care about benefits that allow them to have a good work-life balance,” Shallal said. “This bill creates a fair program that would be paid for by both workers and employers, and I urge the legislature to act this year.”

A recent poll by a Maryland polling firm OpinionWorks found 88% of Marylanders support paid leave. Seven of Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates have pledged their support to the Time to Care Act, according to a statewide advocacy organization questionnaire.

“Every child in Maryland deserves a chance to spend the first few months of their life with parents who don’t have to worry about losing their job or paying rent,” said Rebecca Coppola, a Baltimore City family nurse practitioner.

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The topic of paid family and medical leave in Maryland has been an ongoing issue for years, but Valderrama said she is more confident this year since Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones called it a priority.

CBS Baltimore Staff