Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) formally announced his final legislative package Monday, putting forward bills to raise the minimum wage, curb domestic violence and expand pre-kindergarten, among other priorities.
Most of the legislation that will be pushed by O’Malley during the 90-day General Assembly session had been previously advertised, including bills to cap hospital spending and provide an alternative for citizens who have had trouble obtaining health-care insurance through the state’s glitch-ridden online exchange.
Other bills seek to expand state-designated wildland areas and continue a push to ensure emergency personnel can communicate on the same radio system.
Aides confirmed that O’Malley’s top priority will be the passage of legislation raising the minimum wage in Maryland for the first time since 2006. While there is widespread support among Democrats for an increase above $7.25 per hour, lawmakers have yet to coalesce around a plan.
“We’re going to forge consensus and increase the minimum wage — when workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers, and we’ll grow Maryland’s economy from the middle out.” O’Malley said.
O’Malley’s plan would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and index the minimum wage to inflation beginning in 2017. The proposal would also will require that tipped employees are paid a cash wage of at least 70 percent of the state’s minimum wage.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) told reporters last week that he thinks it will be difficult to pass the plan in his chamber and suggested a solution might be different minimums in different regions of the state.
The issue has been complicated by recent legislation passed by Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to raise the minimum wage in those jurisdictions to $11.50 an hour by 2017.
O’Malley said Monday that Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) will take the lead on pushing three bills related to domestic violence.
The first alters the standard of proof for a final protective order from “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Maryland is the only state that has the stricter standard, O’Malley said.
The second bill requires a court to issue a permanent final protective order against someone who is convicted and sentenced to serve at least five years for certain acts of abuse. Under current law, the standard requires the sentence to have been served.
The third bill increases the penalties for certain crimes of violence committed in front of a child. The latter is also a priority this session for Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), a rival of Brown’s in this year’s Democratic primary for governor.
O’Malley’s package also includes another priority for Brown: the launch of a universal pre-kindergarten program that Brown has touted on the campaign trail.
O’Malley’s bill establishes the first step in a multi-year process, a competitive pre-kindergarten expansion grant program that would allow local jurisdictions to apply for additional funds to expand and supplement existing pre-K programs. O’Malley has also included $4.3 million in his budget to fund the program, which he says will support half-day or full-day pre-kindergarten programs for about 1,600 children.
Gansler and a third Democratic candidate for governor, Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), are also pushing pre-K programs as part of their campaigns.
Also among the new initiatives announced by O’Malley: legislation that would designate new wildland areas in state parks and forests and in wildlife management areas. If fully implemented, Maryland would have 38 wildland areas totaling more than 65,000 acres, according to O’Malley’s office.
The governor is also seeking to build upon an initiative he launched in 2008 to strengthen public safety radio communications throughout Maryland. Among other things, the legislation creates a board to oversee implementation of the program.
O’Malley’s legislative package also includes two health-care bills that have previously received a good deal of attention.
One would allow Maryland to cap hospital spending and set prices — and, if all goes as planned, cut $330 million in federal spending.
The other would expand enrollment in the state-run Maryland Health Insurance Plan, a decade-old program that normally covers high-risk individuals who had trouble getting coverage elsewhere. The expansion would allow a short-term bridge for people who have sought health insurance through the state’s glitch-ridden exchange but have been unable to obtain it.
O’Malley has also previously announced his administration will back several bills meant to address the scandal that emerged last year at a state-run Baltimore jail.
Those bills would stiffen penalties on smuggling cellphones into jails and prisons, expand use of polygraphs to prison personnel and roll back some provisions in a Correctional Officers Bill of Rights’ that should make it easier to take disciplinary action against guards who conspire with inmates.
Sarah Kliff and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.