Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour advanced in the Senate on Wednesday, but only after a key committee stretched out the timetable two years beyond what the governor had proposed.
The Senate Finance Committee amended the bill so that the statewide minimum would reach $10.10 by mid-2018, providing a boost in pay for several hundred thousand low-wage workers but increasing payrolls for many employers.
“We tried to help the business community by slowing it down,” said Sen. Thomas M. Midldeton (D-Charles), chairman of the finance committee.
Middleton’s panel, which voted 7 to 4 for the bill, was the largest remaining hurdle for the legislation, which cleared the House of Delegates last month. A second Senate committee must sign off before the bill heads to the Senate floor.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said it is possible that his chamber will accept the changes made by the Senate, avoiding the need for additional negotiations between the chambers in the waning days of the session.
If the bill passes before Monday, when the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the year, Maryland would become the second state to adopt a statewide minimum wage of $10.10, a figure advocated by President Obama. Last week, Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation to raise the wage to that level by 2017.
The Maryland bill allows counties to adopt higher minimum wages than the statewide standard. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties passed legislation last year that will mandate minimum pay of $11.50 an hour in those jurisdictions by 2017.
In a brief interview, O’Malley (D) said he was pleased with the Senate action, despite the latest in a series of changes to his bill.
“We’re bringing people together to give hard-working people a raise,” O’Malley said.
Middleton held up Senate action on the bill to negotiate with the O’Malley administration over better compensation for workers who care for developmentally disabled people and are paid through the state Medicaid program.
Under a deal that was wrapped into the minimum-wage bill, wages for those workers will outpace the minimum wage by about 30 percent, according to advocates for the workers. A legislative analyst said the cost to the state would be about $30 million a year.
The Senate committee voted to retain the changes made by the House and made a few of its own. For example, it adopted a “training wage” provision that would allow employers to pay 85 percent of the minimum wage to workers under age 19 for the first six months of their employment.
House lawmakers weakened the measure in several ways: removing a provision that called for additional increases based on inflation after the minimum wage reaches $10.10, and freezing base pay for tipped workers at $3.63 an hour, rather than the gradual increase that O’Malley proposed. Under current law, employers must make up the difference if workers don’t reach minimum wage with their tips.
Using the schedule adopted by the Senate Finance Committee, Maryland’s minimum wage would rise to $8 on Jan. 1, 2015; $8.25 on July 1, 2015; $8.75 on July 1, 2016; $9.25 on July 1, 2017; and $10.10 on July 1, 2018. O’Malley had proposed reaching $10.10 by July 1, 2016.
Also in Annapolis on Wednesday, proponents of “Jake’s Law,” a bill that would increase penalties for drivers who cause serious or fatal accidents while using a hand-held cellphone, held a news conference to urge lawmakers to reverse changes in the legislation that were passed by the Senate.
The legislation was filed in memory of Jake Owen, a 5-year-old from Baltimore killed in a 2011 crash caused by a driver who was talking on his cellphone.
The House of Delegates passed a version of the bill that would impose penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if a driver causes a serious accident while texting, talking or otherwise using a hand-held cellphone. Drivers suspected of such behaviors would have to immediately give police their cellphone number, carrier and any e-mail addresses associated with the device.
The Senate passed its own version of the legislation March 20, removing the requirement to provide police with cellphone information. In another key change, the Senate amended the legislation so it would apply only to drivers who are texting — and not to those talking on their phones.
“That’s a critical part of Jake’s Law,” said Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore), a prosecutor who lives near Jake’s parents in Federal Hill and introduced the bill. The driver who killed Jake was talking, not texting, noted Clippinger, who appeared at the news conference with Jake’s parents and other neighbors.
The House and Senate have until the legislative session ends to resolve the differences between the bills.