ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly on its last full day of the session Monday gave final approval to incremental increases in the state's minimum wage over several years to $10.10 by 2018.
The House of Delegates voted 87-47 for the measure, sending it to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who made the bill a priority of his last regular legislative session. Passage won praise from President Barack Obama.
"Maryland's important action is a reminder that many states, cities and counties — as well as a majority of the American people — are way ahead of Washington on this crucial issue," the president said in a statement.
The minimum wage, which was last raised in 2006, will increase from $7.25 an hour to $8 in January. It will rise to $8.25 in July 2015; $8.75 in July 2016; $9.25 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018. All 87 supporters were Democrats. Delegate Benjamin Kramer, D-Montgomery, said the lack of action on raising the minimum wage in Congress has left it up to states to move forward to give low-wage workers a badly needed raise.
"Unfortunately, like so many other things, our state legislatures are having to take up issues that traditionally rested with our federal government because nothing, nothing, is happening on Capitol Hill, and so the state of Maryland has said we're going to step up to the plate," Kramer said.
Republicans, however, said increases could result in job losses. Opponents, including six Democrats, also said the increases will make Maryland less attractive to businesses that would consider relocating to the state.
"We are making it so it's cost prohibitive for jobs to come here," said Delegate Michael Smigiel, R-Cecil.
The bill includes a provision to ensure about 18,000 community service providers who work with the developmentally disabled will make about 30 percent above the minimum wage.
The vote came early on the last day of the legislative session. Lawmakers were still working to put finishing touches on a marijuana decriminalization bill and a plan to get the state's stalled medical marijuana framework operational.
The House approved the decriminalization measure on Saturday with some differences to a bill passed by the Senate. The Senate had proposed a $100 penalty for every offense. The House measure raises the penalties to $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third offense. The two houses also differ on what would trigger evaluations for drug treatment. The measure as changed by the House would require offenders under 21 and those caught with the drug three times or more to be evaluated for treatment.
Medical marijuana legalization has stalled in the state, because a law enacted last year requires academic medical centers to make the drug available to qualifying patients. However, none of the academic medical centers has stepped forward. This year, lawmakers want to allow certified doctors to recommend marijuana for patients with debilitating, chronic and severe illnesses.
Meanwhile, efforts to reform Maryland's bail hearing system have stalled.
Maryland's highest court has ordered the state to provide defense attorneys for poor defendants at initial bail hearings, and to avoid this expense, the House and Senate have passed disparate bills to rework the bail process. But Sen. Brian Frosh, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Monday afternoon that lawmakers had run out of time to negotiate.
As a backup measure, next year's budget has tentatively allocated $10 million for paying private attorneys to staff these bail hearings. Public defenders have estimated it would cost $28 million a year for a proper solution, and they worry underfunding will cause a crisis.
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