By Michael Dresser

Maryland state employees will enjoy a new benefit starting Monday: 60 days of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

The General Assembly passed the legislation in its 2018 session to grant the benefit and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan publicized it Tuesday in a news release in which he announced an executive order that adds flexibility to how parents can take the time off.

The order allows workers to take the days anytime during the six months after a birth or adoption once they have used accumulated annual leave and personal leave. Also, parents will not have to use all of the additional 60 days in a block.

"Because being a new parent isn't just about being home for the first six weeks following your son or daughter's birth," Hogan said in the release. "It's also the doctor's appointments, check-ups, and other important needs in your child's early stages of life."

Hogan's release said he "supported and signed" the legislation that made the benefit possible.

That phrase caught the eyes of Democrats, who noted the legislation was sponsored by Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, and opposed by the Hogan administration.

"I'm glad the governor has gotten on board after the hard work of passing the bill was done," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he approached the administration early in the legislative process, seeking the governor's support, but was rebuffed.

In February, when the bill was before the Senate Finance Committee, Hogan's Department of Budget and Management urged its defeat, saying state employees "currently enjoy a very generous paid leave package." It suggested that employees who become parents could use sick leave, personal leave and vacation. The department also said the legislation would increase overtime spending in some agencies that must stay open around the clock.

The Senate and House of Delegates passed the legislation by large margins, despite the opposition of most Republican lawmakers.

Hogan signed the legislation May 15.

Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor's claim of support is justified.

"When the governor signs a bill, he is supporting it," she said.

Hogan's assertion drew scorn from his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous.

"Today's announcement is sadly the latest example of misleading hypocrisy from a governor who has failed to deliver progress for working families," said Jealous. "I want to thank the Democratic legislators in the General Assembly who, despite Larry Hogan's opposition, passed this law to require his administration to expand parental leave for our state workers."

Chasse said the state's budget office opposes many bills that could prove costly to state operations, but the governor supported the initiative.

In an interview, Hogan acknowledged that the legislation cleared the way for the benefit, but said his executive order makes it more flexible.

"It's going to help a whole lot of people," Hogan said. "I have three daughters, all of whom have kids. We just had two new grandkids this summer. I see firsthand the difficulties of young parents and I think this is going to be a big help."

(c)2018 The Baltimore Sun