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Senate minimum wage bill would give small businesses more time

ANNAPOLIS — Small businesses in the state will have a longer time to increase the minimum wage paid to employees under a proposal working its way through the Maryland Senate.

The Senate Finance Committee voted Thursday morning to amend a House bill implementing a statewide $15 minimum wage by 2025. The final product, however, left a number of committee members who support the increase complaining the bill didn’t go far enough.

“The bill is so watered-down,” said Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s. “I’m very concerned about that. I don’t understand why, in this rich state, we have to wait until 2025 to give people $15 per hour.”

The House of Delegates last week increases the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 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.

The committee also voted to remove provisions providing automatic annual increases linked to the cost of living — requiring lawmakers to revisit the issue. Tipped workers would still receive a base hourly wage of $3.63 per hour, which advocates have long sought to eliminate.

If the version of the minimum wage bill acted on by the Senate committee passes in the chamber, then the House either will have to agree to the changes or a conference committee will iron out the differences.

The Senate Finance Committee version, which could be on the Senate floor possibly as early as Friday, would allow businesses with 14 or less employees to phase up to $15 per hour at a slower pace, reaching the maximum by 2028.

The business size mirrors language in the State’s recently passed paid sick leave law.

Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said the longer implementation time could cause confusion.

“If the General Assembly is going to pass this bill, and it looks like they will, this represents a 48 percent increase,” said O’Halloran. “Let’s give businesses something to ease their pain a little more like a 50-cent increase (annually) over 10 years.”

The committee also voted to increase funding to providers of services to the developmentally disabled. Advocates for the disabled were alarmed by proposed wage rates lowered by the House of Delegates and said those could jeopardize their businesses.

Laura Howell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Services, said the increase — nearly $36 million in the coming year and more than $147.4 million over five years — means care providers will be able to keep pace as the minimum wage increases.

Supporters of the $15 minimum wage said they were disappointed at the increased time to comply for so-called micro-businesses.

“This will leave hundreds of thousands of workers waiting until 2028 for a raise when they need it now,” said Ricarra Jones of 1199 SEIU.

Jones and other supporters also expressed disappointment when the Finance Committee overwhelming rejected an attempt to increase the tipped wage credit from the current $3.63 per hour to 50 percent of the state minimum wage.

Lawmakers who oppose the increase note that businesses who are paying the tipped wage credit are responsible for paying the difference between the credit and the $15 per hour rate that is not made up by tips. The committee accepted an amendment from the Maryland Restaurant Association that will require restaurants to provide statements to their employees noting the hourly rate and earned tips.

Jones said the provision, if ultimately passed by the General Assembly, would make Maryland the first state in the country to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour and leave the tipped wage credit unchanged.

“Maryland is setting a very bad precedent,” said Jones.


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