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Maryland lawmakers give final OK to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour

The Maryland General Assembly gave its final approval Wednesday to legislation increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The measure will go next to Gov. Larry Hogan, who opposes such a significant increase. But both the House of Delegates and the Senate approved the bill with more than enough votes to override a veto.

The legislation gradually increases the minimum wage from the current $10.10 per hour to $15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2025, for companies with 15 or more workers. Smaller companies would follow a schedule that gives them another 18 months, until July 1, 2026, to reach $15 per hour.

The first increase on Jan. 1 would affect workers at all companies, bringing the minimum hourly pay to $11.

Sen. Delores Kelley said the bill will help low-wage workers as well as Maryland businesses, because workers will have more money to spend in the community.

“People who are making at, or just around, the minimum wage don’t tend to put their earnings into long-term investments,” said Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat. “They spend that money on a daily basis. They spend it as quickly as they get it.”

Sen. James Rosapepe, a Democrat representing Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said increasing the minimum wage is “a big step in the right direction” to help workers.

Opponents, however, predicted that raising the minimum wage will cause workers to have their hours cut or lose their jobs entirely.

Sen. Stephen Hershey, an Eastern Shore Republican, said a better way to increase workers’ income is to reduce the taxes that eat away at their pay.

“We should find ways to lower taxes and make the cost of living cheaper, rather than rely on businesses to increase wages,” he said.

Hogan, a Republican, has said that it’s unsustainable to increase the minimum wage to $15, noting that nearby states have lower minimum wages. Virginia, for example, follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 would “harm our state’s economy,” he said.

The governor had floated his own proposal of increasing the minimum wage from $10.10 per hour to $12.10 per hour over two years. Under the proposal, further increases would happen only if surrounding states also increased their wage.

If, as expected, General Assembly leaders quickly send the legislation to Hogan, the governor will have six days, excluding Sundays, to sign or veto the bill. That allows legislators time to override a veto before the 90-day session ends on April 8.

Bills passed in the final days of a General Assembly session can be vetoed after it ends, which can prevent legislation from becoming law until an override vote is held the next year.

Ricarra Jones of the SEIU union and the “Fight for $15” coalition said she hopes Hogan “does not turn his back on the working class and signs this bill.”

Hogan’s office has said only that the governor will “carefully review this legislation when it reaches his desk.”

The bill approved by the General Assembly requires companies that employ tipped workers, such as servers and bartenders, to provide those workers with an explanation of their wages. Tipped workers are allowed to be paid a base wage as little as $3.63 per hour, as long as their tips bring their total pay to at least the minimum wage.

There’s also an opportunity for a one-time pause in the law’s planned minimum wage increases if there are certain negative reports on the economy. The state Board of Public Works — composed of the governor, treasurer and comptroller — would have the authority to make that decision.

The bill did not include everything advocates pushed for. They wanted the wage to be increased to $15 by 2023, with future increases automatically tied to inflation. The revised bill also continues an exemption for agricultural workers and an allowance for lower wages to be paid to young workers.

“It’s not perfect, but we’ve got a victory,” said Larry Stafford, executive director of the advocacy group Progressive Maryland.

Most disappointing, Stafford said, was that tipped workers will see no progress under the bill.

Stafford said his group will circulate an online petition and encourage members to call the governor to urge him not to veto the bill, imperfect as it is.

“It would be a shame if the governor were to veto this,” he said. “I would think that he should be happy that hundreds of thousands of workers will get a raise.”

Business groups also were not happy with the bill.

“It is a 48 percent mandated increase that will significantly raise labor costs for our small employers and hurt the very employees that proponents say it will help,” said Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation for Independent Business.

The House of Delegates approved the final version of the minimum wage bill by a vote of 93-41. The Senate’s vote was 32-13.

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