Riemer promotes county’s paid sick and family leave law on Capitol Hill

Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer testified Wednesday during a U.S. House of Representatives’ subcommittee meeting against a new Republican-sponsored bill that could preempt the county’s new sick and paid leave law.

The National Women’s Law Center has described HR4219, the bill introduced in November and dubbed “Workflex in the 21st Century,” as a way for employers to circumvent local and state paid sick and family leave laws.

Republican representatives during the subcommittee meeting Wednesday described the bill as a more simple way for businesses to offer flexible leave days without having to comply with a “patchwork” of state and local paid leave laws.

The Women’s Law Center described the bill as problematic because it would let employers decide “when and whether workers would be allowed to use paid time off to care for themselves or family members.”

Montgomery County’s law requires employers with five or more employees to provide workers with one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours an employee works, up to a maximum of 56 hours of earned paid sick leave annually.

Riemer said Wednesday that if Congress made a strong federal sick and family leave policy, fewer local and state governments would feel compelled to act. However, he told the representatives during the committee meeting that the if the bill put forth by the Republicans were to pass, it would reduce the rights given to Montgomery County employees in the county law by enabling local employers to circumvent the county law by complying with the less stringent federal requirements.

“A worker could easily end up with very little paid sick days, without even the right to claim them when they need it,” Riemer told the committee about the possible effects of passing the federal bill.

Another witness, Carrie Lukas, president of the Independent Women’s Forum, testified in favor of the bill by saying it would give employers, particularly small businesses, greater flexibility in making paid leave decisions. She said state and local paid leave requirements might have the unintended effect of pricing low-income individuals out of jobs because some businesses might not be able to comply with them.

Democratic representatives who participated in the panel advocated instead for a different House bill—the Healthy Families Act, HR1516—that would establish a federal paid leave baseline. The bill would require employers with 15 or more employers to provide 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year—a policy that closely aligns with the county law, although the employee threshold is higher in the county version.

Riemer, a Democrat, said he doesn’t think the Republican legislation will gain support because he believes Americans are seeking more rights to paid sick and family leave, but he hoped the Democrats’ bill moves forward.

“The Democrats’ bill that they are championing is quite similar to ours,” Riemer said. “I think the basic point is the county’s law is a workable national standard.”

Andrew Metcalf

Raskin throws himself a birthday party, but without once-featured guest

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin turns 55 next week. On Sunday, he’s throwing what a recent invitation described as “my true-blue, rock-and-roll birthday bash” (and campaign fundraiser) for more than 500 friends and supporters at the Silver Spring Civic Center.

The entertainment includes local musicians, and the food will feature “Effective Progressive” mustard from Raskin’s cousins in Wisconsin and what Raskin labeled “8th District and District 20 Salsa (Spiced Globally, Stirred Locally and Served Liberally).” Featured guests include Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Virginia Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax, among the victors in last month’s Democratic sweep of statewide offices there.

But while one of Raskin’s House freshman colleagues, Delaware Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, will be there, another freshman, Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen, will not—even though Kihuen was touted as a featured guest in a mid-November invitation from Raskin for Sunday’s event.

The Mexican-born Kihuen—like Raskin, a member of the House Progressive Caucus—was considered a rising star on Capitol Hill until late last month, when he joined a growing number of legislators accused of sexual harassment. Kihuen made unwanted advances to a female staffer then in his employ, according to a report in BuzzFeed.

For Raskin, it was the second time in recent weeks that he faced the awkward situation in which a colleague to whom he has close ties stood accused of sexual harassment.

Last week, Raskin joined House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in calling for the resignation of long-time Rep. John Conyers—for whom Raskin once interned as a college undergraduate and with whom he recently served on the Judiciary Committee. Conyers resigned this week.

However, Raskin so far has refrained from joining Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders in calling on Kihuen to leave Congress.

“I have been emphatic that we need to have a zero-tolerance policy with respect to harassment, but I have not yet issued a statement on that particular case,” said Raskin, who sits on the House Administration Committee, which is working to craft future policies to curtail sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.

In a phone interview Thursday, Raskin sidestepped questions about whether he had disinvited Kihuen from Sunday’s gathering, saying he had shifted the focus of the party to the recent off-year elections in the region. “I just thought that, all things considered, it would be better to celebrate the victory in Virginia and Frederick and Annapolis,” said Raskin, alluding to Democrats winning the mayor’s post in the latter two cities.

About Kihuen’s absence at Sunday’s event, Raskin added: “As it turns out, he’s not going to be in town anyway. And so I think all’s well that ends well for the party.”

Louis Peck

Riemer files for more public campaign funds; Albornoz says he’s met threshold to qualify

On Tuesday, when at-large County Council member Hans Riemer of Takoma Park was sworn in Tuesday as the council’s new president, his campaign filed paperwork to tap into additional aid from the county’s public campaign finance system as he seeks a third term next year.

Riemer previously qualified for more than $86,000 in public funding in August. His latest filing reported another $12,000 in private fundraising, which will trigger additional public funding of a little less than $40,000.

Meanwhile, another candidate for an at-large seat, Gabriel Albornoz of Kensington, said in a press release this week that he has met the legal threshold to qualify for public funding by raising at least $20,000 from a minimum of 250 contributors.

While Albornoz’s campaign has yet to file the required paperwork with the state Board of Elections, his campaign manager, Ashley Bynum, said Thursday that Albornoz had raised a little more than $25,000 in qualifying private donations and expects to receive about $80,400 in public funding.

Albornoz has headed the county’s Department of Recreation for the past 11 years, and chaired the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee from 2012 to 2014. His parents are immigrants from South America, and he has been endorsed by District 4 County Council Member Nancy Navarro, now the only Latino or Latina member of the council.

Albornoz has enjoyed strong support from the inner circle of retiring County Executive Ike Leggett: Leggett has endorsed him, and the Albornoz campaign is chaired by Charles Short, a longtime special assistant to Leggett.

Riemer’s newly filed fundraising report also shows him benefitting from support from leading members of the Leggett administration, including a $150 donation from Leggett himself—the maximum amount an individual can give to a candidate who is tapping into public financing.

Lily Qi, an assistant chief administrative officer under Leggett, also gave Riemer $150, while Department of Transportation chief Al Roshdieh donated $50.

Riemer has qualified for $136,000 in public funding, the most of the three at-large candidates who have received public campaign subsidies so far. Bill Conway of Potomac has received a little more than $100,000, and Hoan Dang of Silver Spring slightly less than $74,000.

Among 18 other at-large council candidates who have created public financing committees to date, only two—Albornoz and Chris Wilhelm of Chevy Chase—have claimed publicly to have met the threshold for public funding. Wilhelm said last month he had raised about $24,000 to qualify for $80,000 in public subsidies, but has not yet filed the paperwork to receive the money.

Image of Gabriel Albornoz, left, via Montgomery County government.

Louis Peck

Rockville investment firm exec mulling independent run for U.S. Senate, spokeswoman confirms

Neal Simon, chief executive officer of Bronfman Rothschild—a Rockville-based investment firm—is mulling a bid for U.S. Senate as an independent candidate, a spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

“He is considering a run,” Leah Nurik said, adding that Simon will make a decision “by the end of February.” Through Nurik, Simon, a 49-year old Potomac resident, declined a request to be interviewed.

The seat has been held since 2006 by Democrat Benjamin Cardin, who, at 74, has yet to file or announce his intentions for 2018. But Cardin, who has been actively fundraising and moving around the state, is expected to seek a third term.

The filing deadline for next June’s Democratic and Republican primaries is Feb. 27. Independent candidates for statewide office have until the first week in August to file the 10,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.

If he decides to run, Simon, as practical matter, would need to begin campaigning well before that to boost name recognition and overcome the institutional disadvantages of seeking office as an independent.

With the exception of a couple of iconoclastic states on opposite ends of the country—Alaska and Maine—independent candidates in the U.S. rarely have had much success in the modern political era. Maryland fits squarely into this mold.

In fact, Cardin faced an independent challenger in 2012: international businessman Rob Sobhani, a former Georgetown University professor. Sobhani set a record for an independent candidate in Maryland by garnering nearly 16.5 percent of the vote. But he ran well behind Cardin, with 56 percent, and Republican Dan Bongino, with 26 percent.

Sobhani, then a Montgomery County resident, reported spending about $8.1 million, of which nearly 98 percent came out of his own pocket. As CEO of a wealth management firm with 10 offices along the East Coast and in the Midwest, Simon could be in a position to give or lend significant personal funds to his campaign.

Simon joined Bronfman Rothschild in 2015, when that firm acquired Highline Wealth Management, which Simon founded in 2002. He is a past board chairman of the Community Foundation of Montgomery County.

Simon’s interest in a Senate run was first reported by the Maryland Reporterwhich said he has been in conversations with the Colorado-based Centrist Project. On its website, the group describes itself as a “grassroots organization … encouraging more independent candidates to run for public office to put our country ahead of any political faction in order to solve problems.”

Louis Peck

Madaleno to accept public financing in gubernatorial bid

State Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Kensington) announced Friday he would use the state’s public campaign financing system to help fund his run for governor. Under the system, Madaleno can raise as much as $2.8 million with about half of that being provided to him in matching public funds.

The choice to accept public financing will enable Madaleno to raise funds during the 90-day 2018 General Assembly session, as long as individuals provide donations of up to $250, according to The Baltimore Sun. Had he not accepted public financing, Madaleno, as a state elected official, would not have been able to raise money during the session.

In 2014, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan used the public financing system to defeat his Democratic opponent Anthony Brown—who outspent Hogan by a 3-to-1 margin. Madaleno told the Sun he hopes to do the same to Hogan, who has been fundraising consistently since winning the election and reported having $4.6 million in his campaign account in January.

Madaleno is the first of eight Democrats pursuing the party’s gubernatorial nomination to choose public financing, according to the Sun.

– Andrew Metcalf