- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Maryland convened Wednesday the 434th session of the General Assembly, with leaders talking of raising the state’s minimum wage.
Legislators performed few official duties beyond electing House and Senate leadership and introducing more than 200 pre-filed bills — 130 in the Senate, 106 in the House.
Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) will continue to serve as speaker of the House.
Prior to Busch’s election as speaker for the 12th time, Republicans, in a rare move, tried to give the gavel to one of their own — Del. Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), the minority leader.
But those who yell loudest in a voice vote win and the speaker pro tem, Del. Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore), declared that Kipke’s bid to become speaker had failed.
Across the marble hallway, Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) was returned to his post as president of the Senate.
It has been nine months since lawmakers adjourned the 2013 session after passing stricter gun control, repealing the death penalty and increasing the state gas tax.
This year, the push to raise the statewide minimum wage could define the session.
U.S. Census data lists Maryland as having the nation’s highest median household income, yet according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 21 states and the District have higher state minimum wages. Maryland now follows the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
However, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have separately approved increases in the minimum wage in their respective counties to $11.25 an hour by 2017.
“It’s time for us to take an appropriate look at raising our minimum wage for the working middle-class families of the state of Maryland,” Busch said.
“I think whether we’re Democrats or Republicans, we all agree that when people work hard, when they play by the rules, they should be able to move their families forward,” Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) said, addressing the House.
Miller said the state is “going to raise the minimum wage” to help people who are struggling financially, but it will also try to find ways to give breaks to business owners.
Republicans aren’t so optimistic about the benefits of the legislation.
“This policy decision would put Maryland employers at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware,” said Sen. David Brinkley (R-Frederick.) “If it’s to be changed, it should be done at the federal level so you don’t have that jurisdiction differential.”
Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr., (R-Queen Anne’s), also said that raising the minimum wage would “lead to job loss” and “bring an undue burden to the operational cost of businesses.”
“The ‘haves’ don’t understand how tough the ‘have-nots’ have it at this point in time,” Miller said in response. “They don’t understand the cost of tennis shoes, for example.”
At minimum, the General Assembly should decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana before adjourning on April 7, said Del. Heather Mizeur, the House sponsor of the effort and a Democratic candidate for governor in this year’s election.
“We are pushing for legalization, but I think it might take an election and a new mandate from voters to change old ways of thinking on this,” Mizeur (D-Montgomery) said.
Sarah Tincher and Megan Brockett of Capital News Service contributed to this report.