Spare Goliath

Monday, July 24, 2006

MARYLAND'S state lawmakers thought they were David fighting Goliath this year when they passed a law aimed at Wal-Mart Stores' employment policies. But a federal judge found last week that David missed his shot. The Maryland legislature's law, which required the mega-merchandiser to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care for its workers, conflicted with federal statute, the court ruled.

State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), who described the legislature's election-year battle against Wal-Mart as a fight between good and evil, is promising to redraft the legislation and pass it again. He should spare the state another round of his ill-advised battle with this corporate giant. According to U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, the legislation contravened the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act, which prohibits states from setting employee health and pensions standards that would keep multi-state companies from maintaining uniform benefits programs across state borders. But even if Mr. Miller could find a way to draft a legally viable version of the law, he still shouldn't reintroduce the measure.

Targeting a single company because it's unpopular -- or, as Mr. Miller implied, because it's buying political protection with "contributions to the Republican Party" -- is a misuse of governmental power. And repassing the law would have nothing to do with solving the problem of rising state health-care costs. Compared to the national average, Wal-Mart employees are only a tad more likely to collect state-sponsored Medicaid benefits, and many other employers in Maryland keep their health benefits similarly low. About 800,000 Marylanders don't have health insurance, and most of them don't work at Wal-Mart. Massachusetts, a state that is trying to responsibly address rising health-care costs, hasn't resorted to preying selectively on its large employers. Neither should Maryland.

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