Md. Senate chair seeks pay raise for workers who care for developmentally disabled

The chairman of a key Maryland Senate Committee said Wednesday that he does not plan to act on a bill to raise the minimum wage until a related issue is resolved involving the way the state reimburses workers who care for the developmentally disabled.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) made his comment during the latest in a series of work sessions his committee has held as it attempts to craft its version of a minimum wage bill, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has said is his top legislative priority this year.

The House of Delegates passed a bill earlier this month that would raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 in a series of three steps between now and January 2017.

Workers who care for the developmentally disabled in community-based programs supported by the state make an average of $9.82 an hour, about 35 percent above the current minimum wage, according to an advocacy group that lobbies on their behalf in Annapolis.

Middleton has been pushing legislation this year that would ensure the pay of the workers remains somewhat higher than the increased minimum wage. Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, said the administration has been working with Middleton to determine the cost to the state of a compromise measure. Middleton acknowledged Wednesday that his proposal carries a “significant fiscal note” for the State’s Medicaid program.

The issue is one of a handful that senators must resolve in the remaining two and a half weeks of the legislative session before acting on a minimum wage bill. Middleton said he is confident his committee will pass a bill after working through the outstanding issues, some of which were highlighted during Wednesday’s work session.

Representatives of several business groups testified that $10.10 an hour is unreasonably high and advocated lowering the target in the bill. A representative of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce suggested a rate of between $8.50 and $9 an hour.

Meanwhile, a representative of a labor group urged the Senate to improve upon a House provision that would freeze the amount that employers are required to pay tipped workers, such as waitstaff at restaurants. Under the House version of the bill, that amount would remain at the current level of $3.63 an hour, though employers would be required to make up the difference if an employee’s tips did not raise their total hourly pay to the level of the statewide minimum wage.

Several business groups also urged senators to override the recent actions by Montgomery and Prince George’s counties that will establish a higher minimum wage of $11.50 an hour in those jurisdictions by 2017. And some who testified advocated for a lower “training wage” that businesses could pay some employees, including younger workers.

O’Malley is scheduled to appear at a rally Thursday in the Baltimore area to build momentum for a bill.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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