By Bruce DePuyt
Advocates for an increase in Maryland’s minimum wage are expressing disappointment that a measure they championed during the legislative session seems likely to die without a vote.
“We are very disappointed that this bill has not yet progressed,” said Ricarra Jones of Maryland Fight for $15. “Studies show that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour will help 573,000 workers” in the state.
Maryland’s current minimum wage, $9.25 an hour, is due to increase to $10.10 an hour July 1.
The legislation that Maryland Fight for $15 campaigned for this session — Senate Bill 543 and House Bill 664 — would gradually increase the minimum wage over a period of years, reaching its target in July 2023.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties already have boosted their minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, increasing it to $15 an hour in 2021.
The Senate measure, sponsored by Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) has 20 co-sponsors. It is languishing in the Finance Committee following a March 8 hearing.
The House version, sponsored by Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), has 73 cosponsors, more than half the chamber. The bill had a hearing in late February but has not had a vote either.
“I’m very disappointed that we haven’t at least put the subject up to some sort of work group, to try to address what some of the issues are,” said Madaleno, a gubernatorial candidate. “The public is solidly behind this, so let’s [at least] have the conversation.”
Asked Friday about the measure’s apparent demise, Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) pointed to concerns expressed by business groups surrounding other actions the legislature has taken, such as the requirement that companies offer paid sick leave to their workers.
“I’m very supportive of raising the minimum wage,” he told Maryland Matters. “It was hard for me to get the $10.10 bill out of my committee [but] we were able to do it.”
“There are a lot of concerns … which I think are legitimate concerns … [surrounding] some of the things that we have done that the business community was very, very upset with,” he said.
Middleton noted that the legislation’s impact on the Developmental Disabilities Administration, which funds community service providers, is significant — starting at $87 million in fiscal 2020 and rising to $342 million in fiscal 2023.
One co-sponsor said the removal of Sen. Nathaniel T. Oaks (D-Baltimore city) from the Finance Committee, following his indictment on bribery charges, left the committee with 10 members, five from each party, making it more difficult to pass some bills.
The General Assembly adjourns Monday at midnight.
A House supporter of the minimum wage hike, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said acting on the bill this session offers Democrats a potential win-win. If it passes, workers at the low-end of the economic spectrum get a pay raise; if it’s vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R), Democrats have another issue to use against him in the coming campaign.
Emotional Moment at Close of Senate Floor Session
Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden was briefly overcome with emotion at the end of Friday morning’s floor session. McFadden, president pro tem of the chamber since 2007, had just presided over a four-hour-plus floor session, dealing with dozens of bills.
The Baltimore city Democrat then explained to his colleagues that this week’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stirred strong feelings.
“Fifty years after Martin Luther King died, and a black man stands here and conducts the business of the Senate,” McFadden said, his voice catching in his throat.
“It’s something that, just, it got [to] me. Just sitting here. Fifty years after he died and you allow a black man to conduct the business for the whole day. God is good. Thank you, Mr. President,” McFadden said.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who had spent the entire session in a floor seat, walked to the presiding officer’s rostrum to give his colleague a hug while Senators stood and applauded.
“We’re making progress. The whole state is making progress,” Miller said. “And it’s good. When we first got here, it was all men, all white. And now we got a little diversity up here. Different colors, different shades, different hues, different genders. We’re making progress, and you’re a major part of it, Senator.”
Former Allegany Official Pleads Guilty to Misconduct in Office
The former Allegany County register of wills pleaded guilty Friday to misconduct in office for using the office credit card and checking account for more than $4,300 in personal expenses in the latter half of 2016, the Maryland state prosecutor said in a statement.
Rebecca D. Drew, 48, pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court before Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. and was sentenced to three years in prison — a term he suspended — two years supervised probation and ordered to perform 150 hours of community service, the statement read.
Drew resigned her position Aug. 15, 2017, after being indicted the month before.
“As a public official, a register of wills is entrusted with a fiduciary duty to ensure that the funds of that office are used for appropriate purposes,” said Emmet C. Davitt, the state prosecutor. “Fraudulent use of those funds for personal expenses is a total betrayal of that trust.”