- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Maryland became the 18th state to require a higher minimum wage than the federal baseline when lawmakers yesterday voted to raise the wage a dollar, to $6.15 an hour.

The higher wage, which takes effect in 30 days, became law when the state Senate voted by the required three-fifths margin to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto from last session. The House voted to override the veto last week.

“We were trying to help families, and in particular low-income families,” said Democratic Sen. Thomas “Mack” Middleton.

About 26,000 Maryland workers earn the minimum wage, according to state estimates. Opponents said the legislation could hurt low-skilled workers because some of them may be laid off.

“It puts a small-business owner in a difficult position, particularly those who can least afford it. They might have to cut back hours or not make that additional hire,” said Ellen Valentino, director of the Maryland chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Delaware already has a $6.15 minimum wage and the District’s is $7.

Yesterday, the D.C. Council took a step closer to setting the minimum wage at $11.75 per hour for D.C. government employees and workers employed by major city contractors.

The measure, voted out of committee yesterday and sent to the entire council for consideration, applies to most companies conducting business with the city government under contracts in excess of $100,000 over a 12-month period.

The other states are at the federal minimum of $5.15.

“Nobody can raise a family on that,” said Tom Hucker, director of Progressive Maryland, which pushed for the Maryland bill.

“This is a big victory for Maryland workers,” Mr. Hucker said.

Two years ago, Maryland’s Democratic legislature voted to set a “living wage” of $10.50 an hour for state contractors. When Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, vetoed that bill, the legislature did not overturn it.

But this year, lawmakers have bucked the governor on a series of high-profile vetoes, most notably a first-in-the-nation requirement that large companies such as Wal-Mart spend a certain amount on employee health care or pay the difference in taxes.

On Tuesday, the House voted minutes after the Senate’s minimum wage vote to overturn Ehrlich vetoes on two election bills. One would allow voters to cast ballots five days before elections, including Saturdays. The other would make it easier for voters who show up at the wrong precinct to cast provisional ballots.

“It’s for voter convenience,” said Democratic Delegate Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County. She noted than only about half of eligible voters in Maryland turn out in elections. “Maybe this will bring out the other half.”

Republicans in the chamber echoed Mr. Ehrlich’s reasons for vetoing the measures — that the relaxed rules could make it easier to tamper with elections.

Those two voting changes already cleared the Senate, so those bills now become law. The House also overrode an Ehrlich veto of a bill allowing no-excuse absentee balloting.

That bill will drop the five exemptions people must check when requesting an absentee ballot, so people who simply find it more convenient to vote from home will be given permission.

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