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Md. Senate likely to put its own stamp on $15 minimum wage bill

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, left, and Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, left, and Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore and minority whip, are two key senators in the debate over a $15 minimum wage. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — An effort to increase the minimum wage in Maryland to $15 per hour could receive a key Senate Committee vote as soon as Thursday morning.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to meet Thursday morning in what is billed as a work and voting session on the House version of the bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. It will be the first time the committee has worked on the issue — a departure from previous years — since a hearing two weeks ago.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County and chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee, was cautious about committing to any changes to the bill in her committee other than to say there would be differences between the House and Senate.

“It’s hard to tell,” said Kelley. “We really haven’t spent a lot of time on it.”

The Senate held a hearing on its version of the bill on Feb. 21, about two weeks after the House held its hearing and a week before the House passed out an amended version of the proposal.

“We’ve followed it closely, what they were doing in the House,” said Kelly, who added she expects her committee will work on amending the House version of the bill.

“We’re not going back to scratch,” she said.

Senate work on the bill and others has been delayed by confluence of events, including the inability to pre-file bills for the first session of the term, a turnover of roughly one-third of the Senate (and House), which requires more committee briefings than normal, and extended floor debates on bills that do make it out of committee.

“We’re here until 1 o’clock again,” said Sen. Steve Hershey, R-Upper Shore and Senate minority whip. “What happens is you get a bill that just got passed on Friday (in the House), it gets dropped before us and (Kelley) says we’re going to talk about voting on minimum wage on Thursday. We haven’t done anything except the hearing.”

“I think we skipped a step,” he said.

The House version proposes raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2025 — two years later than originally proposed. The first installment would raise the current $10.10 per hour to $11 on Jan. 1 and provide for 75-cent increases annually until the wage reaches $15.

The Board of Public Works would have the one-time ability to delay a scheduled increase based on economic data.

Provisions providing for automatic annual increases linked to the cost of living — requiring lawmakers to revisit the issue — and a provision eliminating the base wage of $3.63 for tipped workers were removed from the original proposal, as were enforcement and remedy provisions opposed by some employers.

The House also lowered payments for providers of services to the developmentally disabled.

“We’re fighting for our survival here,” said Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services.

Kelley and Hershey, who is also a member of the Finance Committee, said there will likely be some effort to restore developmental disability reimbursements, which advocates said would create a crisis in care if left at the levels in the current bill.

“Personally, I’d like to see some kind of geographical index,” said Hershey.

The index would allow for a different minimum wage in rural western Maryland and the Eastern Shore, leaving the higher $15 minimum in place in more urban areas. Supporters of the increased minimum wage have rejected calls for a regionalized approach, and lawmakers say privately that it has been difficult to establish the criteria that could be used to use such an approach.

Also on the agenda for discussion is a possible amendment for so-called micro businesses — companies with less than 15 employees — that would allow them to phase into $15 per hour over a longer period of time.

“I think there’s a lot of discussion,” said Hershey. “A work group would have gotten us to a point where we’re not duplicating effort on amendments. It would have gotten us a consensus at least that we have to go a certain way.”

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