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Maryland Senate OKs bill that would boost minimum wage statewide to $15 per hour

The Maryland Senate approved a bill Thursday night that would gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, putting the measure one step closer to a possible showdown with Gov. Larry Hogan.

Sen. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat, said he was proud to sponsor the bill for working parents who struggle to make ends meet for their families, and for children who walk home from school alone while their parents work second and third jobs.

“I’ve never been more proud to serve in this body,” he said.

McCray was last to cast his vote as the measure passed, 32-15.

The Senate’s version of the bill sets a schedule for companies with at least 15 employees to raise the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15 by 2025. Smaller businesses would have until 2028 to reach $15.

That’s different from a version already approved by the House of Delegates, which requires all businesses to reach a $15 wage by 2025.

The versions of the bill also differ in how much additional state funding they require in future state budgets for health and human services organizations — such as those that serve people with disabilities and offer addiction treatment — to pay their workers.

Both versions would continue to allow tipped workers, such as servers and bartenders, to make a base wage of as little as $3.13 per hour. Their employers would be required to make sure tipped workers’ base wages and tips add up to meet or exceed the minimum wage.

If the House and Senate work out their differences, they would send a bill to Hogan, who has said he’s opposed to a $15 minimum wage.

The Republican governor offered a counter-proposal of increasing the minimum wage to $12.10 by 2022, with future increases coming only if surrounding states have a minimum wage equal to at least 80 percent of Maryland’s minimum wage.

Hogan has not publicly said whether he would veto a minimum wage bill from the legislature. If he does, he would face a potential override because both the House and Senate passed the bills by veto-proof margins.

The debate comes as a growing number of big-name employers are raising wages: Target is raising its base pay to $15 by 2020, Costco is going to $14 and Walmart is at $11. Locally, Anne Arundel Medical Center recently announced a boost in its base wage from $13 to $15 per hour, affecting 1,100 of the hospital’s 4,850 employees.

Many Democratic presidential hopefuls have included a $15 minimum wage as part of their platforms.

Two Maryland counties have passed laws increasing the minimum wage for their jurisdictions: Prince George’s County (to $11.50) and Montgomery County (on its way to $15).

Pennsylvania and Virginia follow the federal minimum wage of $7.25. Delaware and West Virginia have a minimum wage of $8.75, with Delaware’s scheduled to increase to $9.25 this fall. The minimum wage in the District of Columbia is $13.25, going up to $14 this summer.

Debate in the Senate on Wednesday and Thursday fell along party lines with familiar points: Democrats argued that an increase in the wage is needed to help low-wage workers cover basic necessities, while Republicans said it would place a burden on businesses and chase jobs out of the state to lower-cost jurisdictions.

Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, said the bill amounted to a “direct assault” on companies that give entry-level workers a chance to start their careers. He predicted those companies would leave the state if labor costs are too high.

“This is not doing what you think it’s going to do,” he said.

Sen. Andrew Serafini, a Washington County Republican, said the increased wage will pose challenges to employers — especially coming on the heels of a gradual minimum wage increase to the current $10.10 and a new law requiring companies to grant sick leave to workers.

“Most of us run on margins of 1 or 2 percent,” said Serafini, who has eight employees at his financial services firm. If his salary costs continue to rise, Serafini said: “I’ve got real hard decisions to make.”

Five amendments to the bill were defeated Wednesday during an hour-long debate, including measures that would have set a lower minimum wage in rural counties and required surrounding states to raise their wages to $15 in order for Maryland to set a $15 minimum wage.

Earlier that day, advocates from the SEIU 1199 union marched around State Circle carrying yellow-and-purple “Fight for $15” posters.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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