The Maryland General Assembly overrode Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of a bill requiring Wal-Mart to pay more for employee health care yesterday, a measure that has sparked a nationwide debate over the level of benefits an employer should provide workers.
The so-called Fair Share Health Care Fund Act, the first of its kind to succeed in the nation, became a fight between organized labor and business, raising questions about to what extent government should intervene in private enterprise.
It now becomes law and a model for more than 30 other states, which are expected to take up similar legislation in the coming months. But it might have more immediate consequences in Maryland, where some leaders fear Wal-Mart will withdraw its plans to open a proposed distribution center that would, if built, bring nearly 1,000 new jobs to the Eastern Shore.
"Fair Share health care is going to sweep the nation," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, part of a coalition of labor unions, Wal-Mart competitors and others that pushed the bill through the legislature.
"This pro-business, pro-working families law makes sense, and the Maryland state legislature is taking the lead."
Wal-Mart officials were tracking the debate from the company's Bentonville, Ark., headquarters last night. Company spokeswoman Sarah Clark said the vote will do nothing to improve health care for Marylanders. The company will continue making its views known as similar legislation is debated in statehouses across the country and will work for what she said are "real solutions to the health care challenge."
"This vote was never about health care," she said. "This was about partisan politics."
Clark said the company has not decided about the distribution center but will be re-examining the project "through a different set of lenses."
Lobbying on the bill was fierce. Wal-Mart hired more than a dozen lobbyists, and advocates brought volunteers to Annapolis this week for rallies and meetings. But on the day of the vote, much of the jockeying disappeared as the override's likelihood for success appeared clearer.
Even Ehrlich, who has a track record of hard lobbying to stop overrides of major vetoes, appeared resigned to defeat on the Wal-Mart bill. For much of the day he was out of Annapolis announcing parts of his legislative agenda, including a plan to reduce Maryland's estate tax.
Before either chamber voted, he told a group of Prince George's County businessmen that the bill will hurt his efforts to bring business to the state.
"I just know when I walk into the boardroom of a business in the next 90 days, I will be asked by a CEO 'What does this mean for the business environment? Why should I bring my business to Maryland?' And I'm not going to have a good answer," he said.
He had no comment after the final vote on the Wal-Mart bill last night.
The law, which will take effect in 30 days, requires companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on worker health care or pay the difference to a state medical assistance fund. Of the four companies of that size in Maryland, Wal-Mart is the only one that would be affected.
Proponents in the Senate and House argued that the bill establishes an important baseline for corporate responsibility in Maryland and prevents one of the state's largest employers from relying on public assistance programs to care for its employees. They said taxpayers and other businesses that do provide health care are effectively subsidizing the world's largest retailer by picking up the tab for its employees' uncompensated care at Maryland hospitals.
"Who pays? You guessed it. Your constituents, my constituents, other businesses, you and I," said Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's County Democrat and the lead sponsor of the bill.
Foes of the legislation said it was the product of an unholy alliance between organized labor angry at its inability to organize the retailer's workers; Wal-Mart competitors in the retail industry, particularly Giant Foods; and advocates for universal health care. The result, they said, is a worsening of the state's business climate and the prospect that the measure will be expanded in the future to smaller businesses.
"It's the Bermuda Triangle of jobs," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican. "Jobs go in, and they don't come out."
Clark, the Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said more than three-quarters of company employees nationally have health insurance, and both full-time and part-time employees can become eligible for health coverage for as little as $23 a month. But critics say the company's plans often come with high deductibles and can be unaffordable for its low-wage employees.
The final vote in the House was 88-50. The Senate vote was 30-17, with all 14 Republican senators and three Democrats from conservative Anne Arundel County districts siding with the governor.
Jimeno said the AFL-CIO wrote him a letter saying it would not endorse him in the coming election if he voted against the override. He said he has received threats on other veto votes facing the Assembly.
"It's just been a mean-spirited group of individuals contacting our office," he said. "I guess they know it's an election year, and they think they can use it as a hammer to persuade us to vote accordingly."
More defeats for Ehrlich could be on the way. The Senate voted to override six other Ehrlich vetoes, and the House of Delegates overrode the governor on a $1-an-hour increase to the minimum wage. Each bill needs to be decided by the other chamber.
Additional overrides could occur when the House considers more of Ehrlich's vetoes in the coming days. The Wal-Mart bill, however, was voted on by both chambers in the 90-day session's second day.
The House voted 91-48 to override the minimum-wage veto. The override is also expected to succeed in the Senate, where it is scheduled to be considered Tuesday. Maryland would then join 17 other states that have enacted minimum-wage rates higher than the federal $5.15 an hour.
Opponents of the bill argued that it would place an undue burden on the state's small businesses. Proponents said it will help tens of thousands of Marylanders.
Sun reporters Kelly Brewington and Jennifer Skalka contributed to this article.
The Senate and House of Delegates voted to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s veto of legislation requiring Wal-Mart to pay more toward employee health care.
Voting to override the veto
Gwendolyn T. Britt, D-Prince George's
James Brochin, D-Baltimore County
Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City
Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George's
George W. Della Jr., D-Baltimore City
Roy P. Dyson, D-St. Mary's
Nathaniel Exum, D-Prince George's
Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery
Brian E. Frosh, D-Montgomery
Robert J. Garagiola, D-Montgomery
John A. Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George's
Lisa A. Gladden, D-Baltimore City
Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's
Sharon M. Grosfeld, D-Montgomery
Patrick J. Hogan, D-Montgomery
Paula C. Hollinger, D-Baltimore County
Ralph M. Hughes, D-Baltimore City
Verna L. Jones, D-Baltimore City
Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Howard
Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County
Katherine A. Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County
Rona E. Kramer, D-Montgomery
Gloria G. Lawlah, D-Prince George's
Nathaniel J. McFadden, D-Baltimore City
Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles
Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Prince George's
Paul G. Pinsky, D-Prince George's
Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery
Norman R. Stone Jr., D-Baltimore County
Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D-Montgomery
Voting to sustain the veto
John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel
David R. Brinkley, R-Frederick
Richard F. Colburn, R-Dorchester
James E. DeGrange Sr., D-Anne Arundel
Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel
John J. Hafer, R-Allegany
Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll
Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore County
J. Robert Hooper, R-Harford
Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford
Philip C. Jimeno, D-Anne Arundel
Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard
Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick
Donald F. Munson, R-Washington
E.J. Pipkin, R-Queen Anne's
Sandra B. Schrader, R-Howard
J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R-Somerset
Voting to override the veto
Curtis S. Anderson,, D-Baltimore City
Charles E. Barkley, D-Montgomery
Kumar P. Barve, D-Montgomery
Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's
Elizabeth Bobo, D-Howard County
John L. Bohanan Jr., D-St. Mary's
Bennett Bozman, D-Worcester
Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore City
William A. Bronrott, D-Montgomery
Anthony G. Brown, D-Prince George's
Emmett C. Burns Jr., D-Baltimore County
Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel
Rudolph C. Cane, D-Wicomico County
Jon S. Cardin, D-Baltimore County
Jill P. Carter, D-Baltimore City
Galen R. Clagett, D-Frederick County
Virginia P. Clagett, D-Anne Arundel
Mary A. Conroy, D-Prince George's
Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico County
Jean B. Cryor, R-Montgomery
Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George's
John P. Donoghue, D-Washington
Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore City
Kathleen M. Dumais, D-Montgomery
Brian J. Feldman, D-Montgomery
Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery
Barbara Frush, D-Prince George's
Tawanna P. Gaines, D-Prince George's
Marilyn R. Goldwater, D-Montgomery
Marshall T. Goodwin, D-Baltimore City
Michael R. Gordon, D-Montgomery
Melony Ghee Griffith, D-Prince George's
Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery
Peter A. Hammen, D-Baltimore City
Hattie N. Harrison, D-Baltimore City
Keith E. Haynes, D-Baltimore City
Anne Healey, D-Prince George's
Henry B. Heller, D-Montgomery
Sheila E. Hixson, D-Montgomery
Marvin E. Holmes Jr., D-Prince George's
Carolyn J.B. Howard, D-Prince George's
James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George's
Adrienne A. Jones, D-Baltimore County
Anne R. Kaiser, D-Montgomery
Darryl A. Kelley, D-Prince George's
Nancy J. King, D-Montgomery
Ruth M. Kirk, D-Baltimore City
Carolyn J. Krysiak, D-Baltimore City
Sue Kullen, D-Calvert
Jane E. Lawton, D-Montgomery
Susan C. Lee, D-Montgomery
Mary Ann Love, D-Anne Arundel
Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery
James E. Malone Jr., D-Baltimore County
Adrienne A. Mandel, D-Montgomery
Salima S. Marriott, D-Baltimore City
Brian K. McHale, D-Baltimore City
Maggie L. McIntosh, D-Baltimore City
Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George's
Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, D-Baltimore County
Brian R. Moe, D-Prince George's
Karen S. Montgomery, D-Montgomery
Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County
Gareth E. Murray, D-Montgomery
Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-Baltimore County
Doyle L. Niemann, D-Prince George's
Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore City
Jeffrey A. Paige, D-Baltimore City
Rosetta C. Parker, D-Prince George's
Obie Patterson, D-Prince George's
Shane E. Pendergrass, D-Howard County
Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery
James E. Proctor Jr., D-Prince George's
Catherine E. Pugh, D-Baltimore City
Neil F. Quinter, D-Howard County
Victor R. Ramirez, D-Prince George's
Samuel I. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City
Justin D. Ross, D-Prince George's
David D. Rudolph, D-Cecil County
Luiz R.S. Simmons, D-Montgomery
Joan F. Stern, D-Montgomery
Herman L. Taylor II, D-Montgomery
Frank S. Turner, D-Howard County
Veronica L. Turner, D-Prince George's
Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Prince George's
Michael L. Vaughn, D-Prince George's
Michael H. Weir Jr., D-Baltimore County
Bobby A. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County
Voting to sustain the veto
John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County
Susan L.M. Aumann, R-Baltimore County
Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick
Gail H. Bates, R-Howard
David G. Boschert, R-Anne Arundel
Joseph C. Boteler III, R-Baltimore County
Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel
John W.E. Cluster Jr., R-Baltimore County
Robert A. Costa, R-Anne Arundel
Steven J. DeBoy Sr., D-Baltimore County
Donald H. Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel
Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester
George C. Edwards, R-Garrett
Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll
D. Page Elmore, R-Somerset
William J. Frank, R-Baltimore County
Terry R. Gilleland Jr., R-Anne Arundel
Barry Glassman, R-Harford
Jeannie Haddaway, R-Talbot
Patrick N. Hogan, R-Frederick
Richard K. Impallaria, R-Baltimore County
Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford
Sally Y. Jameson, D-Charles
J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore County
A. Wade Kach, R-Baltimore County
Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany
Sheryl L. Davis-Kohl, R-Harford
Susan W. Krebs, R-Carroll
John R. Leopold, R-Anne Arundel
Murray D. Levy, D-Charles
W. Daniel Mayer, R-Charles
Susan K. McComas, R-Harford
Tony McConkey, R-Anne Arundel
Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore County
Robert A. McKee, R-Washington
Herbert H. McMillan, R-Anne Arundel
Warren E. Miller, R-Howard
LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington
Anthony J. O'Donnell, R-Calvert
Joanne S. Parrott, R-Harford
Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington
Tanya Thornton Shewell, R-Carroll
Michael D. Smigiel Sr., R-Cecil
Theodore J. Sophocleus, D-Anne Arundel
Richard A. Sossi, R-Queen Anne's
Nancy R. Stocksdale, R-Carroll
Paul S. Stull, R-Frederick
John G. Trueschler, R-Baltimore County
Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent
John F. Wood Jr., D-St. Mary's
Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore City
Excused from voting
Eric M. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County
Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick