- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Martin O’Malley yesterday signed the country’s first statewide “living-wage” law, requiring state contractors to pay at least $8.50 to workers and $11.30 in parts of Maryland such as Baltimore and the District suburbs, where it is more expensive to live.

The bill, which Mr. O’Malley said was designed to strengthen the state’s middle class, was one of 203 he signed.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he pushed for the legislation to make sure people who work on a state-funded contract will be treated fairly and that they will be able to feed family members for their “day of labor on behalf of the people of our state.”

The law, which will take effect in October, was cheered by labor and civil rights groups. It is modeled on local laws across the country, but advocacy groups say it is the first statewide law. It affects contracts worth at least $100,000 and includes loopholes for the University System of Maryland and some other state agencies, such as the Maryland State Lottery. The wage requirement also would not apply to 16-year-olds or nonprofits.

The measure allows employers to reduce the amount they have to pay workers if they pay their health insurance.

While Maryland is the first state to approve such a wage, several others are considering it.

Republicans in the Democrat-controlled legislature opposed the measure, particularly the provision allowing higher wages in some regions. Rural areas are where the $8.50 wage applies. The Maryland chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business also opposed the bill, saying it would hurt small businesses.

In 1994, Baltimore became the first city to require the higher wage, and living wages now are required by more than 100 cities nationwide. The Maryland legislature passed a similar measure in 2004, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Democrats didn’t attempt to override the veto, opting instead to raise the state’s minimum wage $1 an hour to $6.15 and passing the bill over another Ehrlich veto.

Mr. O’Malley also signed a bill to freeze tuition in the University System of Maryland.

The measure Mr. O’Malley signed applies to the next school year. The governor said he wants to continue the freeze “as we wrestle our budgetary problems to the ground.” Maryland is facing a $1.5 billion structural deficit next year.

Mr. O’Malley also signed a bill to create the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board, which is designed to attract biotechnology companies to the state. And he signed a resolution in which Maryland apologizes for slavery.

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