A key House panel on Monday night voted 13 to 8 to advance Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill to raise Maryland’s minimum wage after striking a provision to tie future increases to inflation and delaying the date it would take effect.
Under changes approved by the House Economic Matters Committee, the state’s minimum wage would rise in three steps, reaching the $10.10 an hour sought by O’Malley (D) on Jan. 1, 2017 — six months later than he proposed.
The committee also carved out an exemption for Six Flags and other seasonal amusement park operators and changed the way that O’Malley proposed compensating tipped workers in response to great pressure from the restaurant industry.
The bill, which O’Malley has identified as his top legislative priority this year, would still allow counties to set higher minimum wages than mandated by the state. Both Montgomery and Prince George’s voted late last year to adopt minimums of $11.50 an hour by 2017 in their jurisdictions.
Supporters of the statewide bill argued that it would help families struggling to make ends meet and give them extra money to reinvest into the economy. Opponents cautioned that businesses would have to lay off workers because of the additional wage costs.
“No matter what happens in the House, we’ve still got a ways to go,” Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) , the committee’s chairman, told his colleagues, alluding to additional changes expected when the bill reaches the Senate.
The full House is expected to start debating the legislation on Wednesday.
O’Malley’s provision tying future increases to inflation was among the more controversial and not expected to survive. Lawmakers are often reluctant to tied the hands of their successors.
Davis told reporters the six-month delay is intended to give businesses more time to plan for the changes in the bill. O’Malley had sought the first increase to take effect in July.
As amended, the bill would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour on Jan. 1, 2015; to $9.15 an hour on Jan. 1, 2016; and $10.10 an hour on Jan. 1, 2017.
In another nod to concerns raised by small businesses, the committee also voted to keep a provision in current law that exempts cafes, restaurants and taverns with less than $250,000 a year in gross income from paying the minimum wage. O’Malley had sought to remove that exemption from the law.
The committee also altered the way tipped workers, including those employed by restaurants, would be compensated. As amended, the bill mandates those employees be paid an hourly rate of $3.63 in addition to tips. If the workers do not collect enough in tips to reach the statewide minimum wage, employers must make up the difference.
Under O’Malley’s proposal, the mandated hourly wage would have been higher. Committee members noted that the floor guaranteed under Maryland law would still be significantly higher than in surrounding states under the amendment they adopted.
Davis said the exemption for Six Flags and other amusement parks and recreational establishments was warranted because they employ many younger people who are not trying to raise families on their earnings.
The committee rejected a proposed amendment to divide the state into two tiers, allowing employers in rural areas to pay a lower minimum wage. Another amendment was rejected that would have prohibited counties like Montgomery and Prince George’s from setting their own minimum wages.
In a statement issued late Monday night, O’Malley said “no one who works full time should have to raise their family in poverty. I commend the members of the committee for their hard work, and I look forward to the bill advancing to a vote before the full House of Delegates.”
Twenty-one states and the District have minimum wages higher than Maryland, which has been using the federal standard.
In addition to approving O’Malley’s bill, the House panel also advanced a similar measure Monday night sponsored by Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), who has been pushing the legislation for several years.