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Assembly Passes Bill Affecting Only Wal-Mart

Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page C05

The Maryland General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to a bill that in effect would force Wal-Mart to boost spending on employee health benefits or contribute money to the state's health care program for the poor.

The House of Delegates voted 82 to 48 to approve the same bill that the Senate approved last week. The House earlier had approved a slightly different version. The legislation now goes to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who has promised to veto the measure.

Ehrlich, speaking to reporters yesterday, criticized Democrats for pushing the bill, noting that Maryland had been ridiculed by Rush Limbaugh and other national commentators.

"They're trying to send a message to the business community that you truly are irrelevant," Ehrlich said.

Under the bill, companies in Maryland with more than 10,000 employees would be required to spend 8 percent of their payroll on employee health care or make a contribution to the state Medicaid program.

Wal-Mart, with about 15,000 Maryland workers, is one of four firms that qualifies and the only one that does not meet the 8 percent threshold. The company has said its spending is somewhere between 7 and 8 percent.

-- John Wagner

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