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Minimum wage bill OKed by Senate committee, sent to Senate floor

A proposal to raise Maryland's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2018 is on its way to the Senate floor.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted 9-3 to approve House Bill 295, a measure that was amended Wednesday before being approved by the Finance Committee.

Under the version of the bill about to be debated by the 47-member Senate, the minimum wage would rise from $7.25 an hour to $8 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015; to $8.25 on July 1, 2015; to $8.75 on July 1, 2016; to $9.25 on July 1, 2017; and to $10.10 an hour on July 1, 2018.

While the bill was approved by a wide margin in the Budget and Taxation Committee, several members who voted for the bill said they remained concerned about some aspects of the measure.

The bill could be taken up for debate in the Senate as early as Friday.

As Sen. Verna L. Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, cast her vote for the bill, she said she had some consternation about some of the bill's provisions, including one to keep wages for tipped workers the same.

The original bill would have raised the wage for tipped workers. But the House moved to eliminate the proposed hike and the Senate has agreed with that move so far.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said he could see the bill changing when it's debated by the full Senate.

"I think we're going to see some amendments on the floor," Madaleno prophesied.

The push for a minimum wage hike in Maryland started earlier this year, when Gov. Martin O'Malley threw his administration's weight behind a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

The House voted in March for a proposal that differed slightly from the governor's original bill.

Before passing the House, O'Malley's proposal to raise the minimum wage was stripped of a provision that would have indexed the wage to inflation after it hits $10.10.

The House also moved to eliminate a proposed hike for tipped workers and extend the implementation timeline.

Opponents say a higher minimum wage would burden small businesses and kill jobs. Supporters argue that the measure will help Maryland's low-wage workers feed their children and build savings.

The Senate's version of the bill extended the implementation timeline again and included a provision so employers could offer a training wage. Under the bill, employers would be allowed to pay workers younger than 19 years old 85 percent of the minimum wage for the first six months of those workers' employment.

Just one amendment was offered during Thursday's voting session on the bill. Sen. Joe Getty, R-Carroll, offered an amendment that would have allowed employers like Merriweather Post Pavilion to pay the training wage to seasonal workers.

If a worker was employed for five months one year and came back to the job the next season outside of a 12-month period, an employer could pay that worker the training wage again for five months, it was explained.

The amendment failed, gaining just four votes of support.

The Senate is scheduled to convene again at 10 a.m. Friday. Weekend sessions are expected, as bills only have until the close of business on April 7 to pass both chambers in the same form.

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