As House Gives Early Nod to $15 Wage, Advocates Turn to Senate

Ricarra Jones (right), acting political director of 1199SEIU, joined with the LOCAL Maryland coalition Wednesday to oppose a preemption provision in the pending $15 minimum wage bill. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Hardly an hour after the House of Delegates moved forward a stripped-back $15 minimum wage bill, advocates gathered in Annapolis to turn lobbying efforts toward the crossfiled Senate bill.

Representatives from the NAACP, 1199 SEIU, American Heart Association and others – who have come together under the acronym LOCAL Maryland – pressed for a Senate version of the bill without a preemption provision.

LOCAL, which stands for Let Our Communities Act Locally, opposes any provision that would prohibit local communities from setting their own minimum wages higher than the state rate. A $15 wage should be the floor throughout the state, with the possibility of local increases, the advocates said.

“This amendment will block people of color living in cities and counties from earning the higher wages they need to support their families,” Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement. “The NAACP finds this amendment both offensive and harmful to people of color.”

The coalition supports efforts to end preemption provisions in all areas of the law – the American Heart Association’s involvement, for example, is focused on health-related local laws – but used the movement of the Fight for 15 bill to come together in Annapolis.

“We must protect the ability of our cities, towns and counties to pass laws that keep our families healthy, our environments clean and good jobs plentiful,” said Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland. “The minimum wage amendment will put the health of our most vulnerable residents at risk, including children, the elderly and communities of color.”

McIntosh said she has heard that there is a “very strong possibility” of a preemption provision being included in the Senate version of the bill.
Preemption laws are becoming increasingly common in the United States, according to LOCAL Maryland. Twenty-six states have passed minimum wage preemption laws.

Maryland has passed preemption laws on tobacco control, paid sick leave and to prohibit local gun control laws.

“Maryland’s Fight for $15 campaign has a simple goal of giving hard-working state residents wages they deserve in order to cover basic living costs,” said Ricarra Jones, acting political director of 1199SEIU. “We are working with LOCAL Maryland to call on the Maryland General Assembly to pass a wage measure that benefits all residents while preserving the ability of local government to work on behalf of our own communities.”

Advocates said the addition of a preemption provision would further weaken a bill that saw significant amendments in the House Economic Matters Committee. The Senate was waiting to see how the House treated the Fight for 15 measure before moving forward on a vote in that chamber.

The House amendments, passed on the floor this week, would exempt tipped workers, agricultural workers and workers under the age of 18 from the $15 minimum wage.

A series of amendments from Republican lawmakers were voted down by wide margins on the House floor Wednesday morning.

Del. Wayne Hartman (R-Wicomico, Worcester) sought an amendment that would have exempted some rural areas from the $15 minimum wage. An amendment from Del. Sid Saab (R-Anne Arundel) would have extended an 85 percent youth wage up to 20-year-olds. An amendment from Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington) to allow a county-by-county minimum wage also failed. Ninety-four or more delegates voted against each of the amendments.

No amendments were put forward on the floor from progressive lawmakers seeking to restore provisions of the bill removed in committee. Del. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) said she considered an amendment that would have added back a provision to tie annual wage adjustments beyond the $15 minimum to the Consumer Price Index.

Wednesday afternoon, Hettleman said simply that it “wasn’t the right opportunity” to seek a floor amendment right now. Generally, Hettleman said she would oppose a preemption amendment if it is included in the bill by the end of session. “We’re far from having completed the legislative process,” she said.

Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) said he “whole-heartedly” supports the advocates against a preemption provision.

“I think we should have local control, in reference to wages and various other issues,” McCray said. “Local jurisdictions should have that discretion. If they think workers in their respective jurisdictions should be paid more, that is their decision. We know that local folks have their ears closest to the ground.”

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