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Wave of legislation on wages, tobacco and beer passes General Assembly

ANNAPOLIS — Minimum wage workers in Maryland will eventually earn $15 an hour, the state Senate and House agreed on Wednesday.

Each chamber approved a compromise bill that will increase the minimum non-tipped wage from $10.10 an hour to $15 an hour by 2025. The bill will head next to the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R).

“We are getting it up to $15 an hour. That’s a win,” Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) said after the vote.

However, there will be no wage increase for tipped workers, and non-tipped workers in businesses with fewer than 14 employees will not reach $15 an hour until 2026. The slower phase-in for small businesses remained a point of concern for Young, who said $15 an hour then might not be worth much more than $10.10 is now.

The two chambers have debated whether raising the minimum wage would be an economic boon or job killer for Maryland.

Del. Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick and Carroll) did not support the original bill, which stipulated a 3 percent annual increase in wages for certain health care providers, which rely on set reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid for their services, including an adult day care center in Frederick County. The Senate originally passed a 5 percent annual raise.

A compromise annual raise of 4 percent passed both chambers.

Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) also said it was bad policy for the state to pass a “one size fits all” minimum wage without geographic consideration to employment and median household income. He was concerned that starting jobs for teenagers would be eliminated due to cost and automation.

At age 16, Hough’s first job was to hand out samples of chicken teriyaki outside the mall, which later led him to a job as a busboy and then at a deli in a Giant supermarket. He doubted businesses would pay a teenager $15 an hour today to do his first job.

“Jobs like that are going to disappear,” Hough said.

Up in smoke

Maryland also appears poised to increase the age from 18 to 21 to buy tobacco and nicotine products.

The House and Senate have each passed their own version of a bill this session to raise the minimum age to 21 to buy cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and newly popular e-cigarettes. However, the Senate version also includes a provision that would allow individuals with a military ID, who are under 21, to continue to purchase tobacco and nicotine, due to an amendment proposed by Hough.

Hough enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 18 and transported and maintained Minuteman missiles. He proposed the exception for service members on the floor of the Senate.

“It personally bothers me a great deal, because I think of the young men and women I served with, who we judged were old enough — mature enough — to give their life for our country, and to do things we don’t trust nearly anyone else to do. Work on nuclear weapons, fly helicopters, fight in Iraq, fight in Afghanistan, and for gosh sake you’re not mature enough to decide whether you can light up a cigarette?” Hough said.

The differences between the two bills will need to be rectified before the bill can be sent to the governor.

The Democratic caucuses announced that raising the minimum age to buy tobacco as one of its priorities early in the session. The same day as the announcement, the American Lung Association released a report that said there was a 78 percent increase in youth e-cigarette use between 2017 and 2018.

By increasing the minimum age to 21, lawmakers hope to reduce the pathways for middle school students to access tobacco.

In debate on the bill in the Senate, lawmakers said they believe high school students may be purchasing tobacco for middle school students, but 21-year-old college students may have less interaction with younger students and be less likely to buy tobacco and nicotine products for them.

Paratransit funding

The Maryland Department of Health has agreed to study possible models to cover the cost of paratransit.

Del. Carol Krimm (D-Frederick) originally sponsored a bill this session that would create a study of non-emergency transportation funding, but withdrew her bill after Secretary of Health Robert Neall said his department planned to study possible funding models and create a procurement process for a proposed statewide transportation broker model for non-emergency transportation.

“The Department believes that reforming Maryland’s [non-emergency medical transportation] systems and creating the infrastructure that will deliver access to care for Marylanders is a critical goal for the state over the next few years,” Neall wrote.

The Maryland Department of Health does not anticipate being able to roll out a complete program in fiscal 2020. However, it does plan to create a procurement process and determine if any additional statutory or regulatory action is needed at the federal or state level. Within 18 to 24 months it would like to implement a broker model, according to the letter.

Krimm and Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) will be involved in the ongoing work.

Modern beer

More law changes for Maryland’s craft beverage industry are also brewing this session.

The changes will affect multiple alcohol license types in the state by increasing the number of barrels that can be brewed annually as well as the total number of barrels that can be sold for on-site consumption.

One important change is for Class 7 microbreweries, which will be allowed to increase their total annual production from 22,500 barrels to 45,000 barrels, if the bill passes and becomes law. The license holders would also be able to serve 5,000 barrels at each of their locations.

The bill would also require the comptroller’s office to prepare annual reports on the total beer production of certain license groups and send the reports to the House Economic Matters and Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committees.

The House passed the bill 133-1 on Wednesday. The Senate has not moved its version of the bill out of committee, but the House copy will cross over for its consideration as well.

Patient protection

After four years of negotiations, a new Patient’s Bill of Rights has passed the House of Delegates.

Maryland hospitals and 26 consumer advocate groups reached an agreement this year on 24 expectations for patient care and hospital staff in a Patient’s Bill of Rights sponsored by Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick).

The point of the bill is to establish a consistent list of rights for when any person seeks care at any hospital in the state.

“I’m still in shock that not only did it pass, but we got most of what we wanted,” Lewis Young said.

The bill unanimously passed the House on Monday and has moved on to the Senate for consideration.

“I probably worked harder on negotiations on that bill than any other bill,” Lewis Young said.

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