Catholic bishops urge Maryland legislature to raise minimum wage during 90-day session

The Catholic bishops of Maryland weighed in Monday in favor of an increase in the state’s minimum wage, an issue that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is pressing with the General Assembly this session.

O’Malley formally unveiled a bill Monday that would raise the minimum wage from the current $7.25 per hour to $10.10 an hour by 2016.

In a statement titled “The Dignity of Work,” the bishops said that an increase in the minimum wage deserves “the serious consideration of our legislature,” along with legislation that would mandate sick leave for workers.

“A full-time worker earning the state’s current minimum wage of $7.25 earns little more than$15,000 annually, hardly enough to pay for food and rent, let alone support a family,” according to a joint statement from the bishops in three dioceses with territory in Maryland.

“More than 80 percent of the state’s low-wage earners are adults, and many are parents trying to provide the necessities of life for their children,” the statement said. “They deserve the comfort of knowing that their hard work can provide the means they need to achieve economic stability for themselves and their families.”

Although there is widespread support among Democrats for an increase above $7.25 per hour, lawmakers have yet to coalesce around a plan.

Some restaurants and retailers are opposed to an increase, and a lively debate is expected over whether there should be a unified minimum wage for all regions of the state.

The Catholic Church has a mixed record in Maryland in recent years on issues it has sought to influence. The church urged lawmakers to repeal the death penalty, which they did. But the bishops were strongly opposed to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Maryland emerged as a beacon for Catholics during its Colonial days, and Catholics remain a significant presence in Annapolis. O’Malley and both presiding officers of the legislature are Catholics.

The dioceses of Baltimore, Washington and Wilmington are the three with territory in Maryland, and each includes a bishop and auxiliary bishops.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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