Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Minimum wage bill advances to final vote in House

Despite resistance from the GOP, the Maryland House of Delegates gave preliminary approval on Wednesday to a bill that would increase the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour over three years.

Rejecting every amendment proposed, the bill moves to a final vote which could occur as early as Thursday.

The measure's supporters, mainly House Democrats, shot down amendment after amendment proposed by mostly Republicans who oppose the bill.

GOP lawmakers tried to exempt businesses with less than 50 workers from the bill. One proposed amendment would have exempted any business within 90 miles of a state border.

But every time opponents tried to weaken the bill, or in some cases render it near useless, proposed amendments were shot down along party lines.

Supporters argue the bill will help Maryland's low-wage workers feed their children and potentially build savings. Opponents have argued the bill is burdensome for small businesses and will cost the state jobs.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, said during Wednesday's debate that those who claim the bill's opponents don't care about the worker are wrong.

"I want you to know from the most sincere perspectives, the most sincere principles... our concern with the extreme $10.10 an hour is the worker," Kipke said. "They are going to be the ones who suffer most. We all share a concern about the worker."

Wednesday's debate came after the House Economic Matters Committee voted 13 to eight on Monday to advance the bill to the House floor.

But before the committee advanced the bill Monday, it accepted several amendments.

Lawmakers stripped out a proposal to index future increases to inflation. The committee also delayed when the wage would increase from July 1 to Jan. 1 in the next three years. Under the bill, the minimum wage would rise to $8.20 on Jan. 1, 2015. It would then increase to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2016, and $10.10 on Jan. 1, 2017.

Also on Monday, the committee carved out an exemption for amusement parks like Six Flags that operate on a seasonal basis.

Del. Ron George, R-Arnold, argued that exemption wasn't fair. George, who is running for the Republican nomination in the governor's race, said that exemption didn't include amusement parks like one in Frederick along Interstate 70 called Adventure World. That park operates year-round, George said.

George, who owns a jewelry store on Main Street, also said he has heard from business owners who will close their business if the bill passes.

Del. Dereck Davis, D-Prince George's, who chairs the House Economic Matters, said frankly to Del. Michael McDermott, R-Wicomico, that he didn't need McDermott's vote for the bill to pass.

Wednesday's preliminary approval means the bill is likely to pass when it gets a final vote in the House.

But Davis said if the bill does pass the House and Senate, it is likely to end up in a House-Senate conference committee, because he said there will likely be differences in the proposals that pass each chamber.

"We're already slated to go to conference, that's a given," Davis said.

The same bill must pass both chambers by the final day of the General Assembly's 90-day session on April 7.