The Maryland House of Delegates voted to give preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would increase the state's minimum wage gradually from $10.10 per hour to $15.

Delegates debated the measure for a little less than an hour, with Republicans unsuccessfully attempting to amend the bill to exempt more workers from eventually receiving the $15 wage.

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All of the Republican amendments were defeated on largely party-line votes.

“We tried to find a good balance,” said Del. Dereck Davis, chairman of the Economic Matters Committee that made changes to the bill before sending it to the full House.

Support grows for raising Maryland's minimum wage, but not all agree. Debate could focus on how much — and where

A battle is shaping up in Annapolis over whether — and by how much — to increase Maryland’s minimum wage. Advocates want a bill passed that will raise it to $15 for everyone. Opponents, including groups representing small businesses, hope to block an increase — or at least soften its impact.

Wednesday’s preliminary vote sets up the bill for a final vote later this week.

The bill moving forward in the House would:

» Increase the minimum wage to $11 on Jan. 1, with 75-cent increases each year after that until reaching $15 in 2025.

» Allow the state Board of Public Works a one-time opportunity to delay an increase based on economic data.

» Require additional money in future budgets for state-funded health and human service organizations, such as those that help individuals with disabilities.

» Allow employers to pay workers younger than 18 only 85 percent of the minimum wage. (Current law allows workers younger than 20 to be paid 85 percent for the first six months of employment.)

The revised bill is different from the one that was introduced, which advocates dubbed the “clean $15” bill. That bill would have started the minimum wage increases this summer, pushing it to $15 by 2023. And it would have indexed future minimum wage increases to the federal Consumer Price Index — meaning that the minimum wage would rise automatically after 2023.

House of Delegates to debate raising Maryland's minimum wage to $15 by 2025

The House of Delegates will begin debate on a bill to gradually increase Maryland's minimum wage from $10.10 per hour to $15 an hour. The revised bill falls short of what worker advocates and unions hope for, because it would slow the rate of the increase and allow a lower wage for servers.

The changes didn’t satisfy Republicans, who raised concerns that the increased minimum wage would be a burden on businesses and put Maryland at a disadvantage compared to surrounding states.

“One size does not fit all,” said Del. Jason Buckel, a Republican from Allegany County. He supported an amendment that would have kept the minimum wage at $10.10 per hour in rural areas.

“Our economy isn’t based on our comparison to other metro areas,” he said. “Our economy is based on comparison to places that you’ve never heard of, for the most part, like Mineral County, West Virginia.”

In Cumberland, he said, it’s easy to walk over a bridge to West Virginia, where the minimum wage is $8.75.

“We can see West Virginia from our offices,” he said.

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Del. April Rose, a Carroll County Republican, said her county competes with Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

“This is going to be a job killer,” he said. “This is really bad for Carroll County and the rural areas.”

What's in a wage? From pizza shop owners to house cleaners, voices on raising Maryland's hourly minimum to $15

As Maryland lawmakers debate whether to increase the state's hourly minimum wage, workers and business owners watch to see how they'll be affected. Some saying it’s vital for workers to be paid enough to take care of basic needs. Others warn an increase would be a job-killing measure.

Del. Kevin Hornberger, a Cecil County Republican, tried to put a requirement for even more funding for health and human service organizations into the bill so they can afford to pay their workers better. But Democrats countered that such a provision, while laudable, wouldn’t be affordable.

Another failed Republican effort, from Anne Arundel County Del. Sid Saab, would have moved the 85 percent wage for workers under 18 back to the current law allowing it up to age 20.

Democratic Del. C.T. Wilson of Charles County said young workers shouldn’t have to wait too long to make the full minimum wage.

“When you’re an adult, when you’re 19, you need to make whatever that minimum wage is, at least,” he said.

The next step for the bill is a final vote in the House of Delegates.

The state Senate has yet to act on the minimum wage issue. If the House and Senate approve different versions of the bill, the differences would have to be reconciled before sending it to Gov. Larry Hogan.

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