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Legislative leaders float higher, tiered minimum wage for Maryland

Laws and LegislationElectionsMichael E. BuschJustice System

Legislative leaders said Friday raising Maryland's minimum wage could involve boosting the rate statewide and letting prosperous counties increase it even further.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch told county officials gathered for a conference on the Eastern Shore they expected the legislature to consider raising the minimum wage. But, they said, it did not make sense for every jurisdiction to match rates set by counties where the cost of living is higher.

Miller said there was not "a one size fits all" solution to increasing the wage. In an interview afterward, Miller said that while there was sure to be debate on the wage, there was "no consensus" among lawmakers about how to do increase it.

Officials in Montgomery and Prince George's counties recently voted to gradually hike the wage in their own jurisdictions from $7.25 per hour to $11.50.

"We realize that level can't be the same across the state of Maryland," Busch said, calling minimum wage the "primary issue" lawmakers will consider next year.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and all three Democrats running to succeed him had already called for a higher wage, all but assuring the issue will play a prominent role in the General Assembly session that begins next month.

A new political calendar for the first time sets the campaign season to overlap with the state's legislative session. The new filing deadline for candidates is in February, and the primary contests are scheduled for June 24, less than two months after the legislature adjourns.

"The 90-day session is going to be one long campaign," Miller said. Busch added that leaders will have to "remind people to keep their eye on the ball, even if they have a tough election."

Miller and Busch appeared alongside House Minority Leader Nic Kipke and O'Malley's chief legislative officer, Jeanne Hitchcock, at the Maryland Association of Counties' winter conference in Cambridge.

Hitchcock said she was not going to reveal the governor's legislative agenda for him. But she said it may be time to look at reforming criminal justice in Maryland, in part because of a recent court ruling that may cost the state as much as $40 million a year to provide public defenders at every bail hearing.  Hitchcock also mentioned O'Malley's support for the minimum wage, expanding pre-kindergarten for youngsters and legislation that would increase penalties for bringing contraband into Maryland jails.

In an interview about minimum wage, Miller suggested a state-wide floor of $8.25 per hour, and that jurisidictions could raise it higher.  And he suggested a possible constitutional amendment that would tie Maryland's minimum wage to inflation. The veteran lawmaker said, "we're going to get a lot of push-back on this."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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