The House of Delegates Friday passed legislation to boost the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, to be phased in over the next six years.
The 96-44 vote was almost exclusively along party lines, with two freshmen from Baltimore County, Dels. Michele Guyton and Harry Bhandari, who represent conservative Baltimore County districts, the only Democrats to oppose the legislation. Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford), who was censured by her colleagues the night before for uttering a racial epithet in January, was absent on Friday.
The vote came after about 90 minutes of floor debate – though the results were never in doubt.
Democrats argued that the legislation will provide needed relief for low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet. Republicans warned that the measure would be catastrophic for small businesses – and some went even further, adopting the national GOP mantra that progressive Democratic policies are nothing more than socialism.
“Socialism doesn’t work,” said Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert and St. Mary’s), who complained that the House has drifted to the left since he was first elected in 2010. “It didn’t work in the Soviet Union, and we can see what’s happening now in Venezuela.”
The remarks produced sarcastic whistles from a few Democrats.
The bill as amended by the House earlier this week would exempt tipped workers, agricultural workers and workers under the age of 18 from the $15 minimum wage. The House Economic Matters Committee also stripped a provision out of the original legislation that would have adjusted the state minimum wage annually based on the federal Consumer Price Index.
Attention now turns to the state Senate, where advocates are hoping to pass a “clean” $15 minimum wage bill. Still, even with the changes, House Democrats said they are pleased with the product that emerged from their chamber.
“I believe this is not a silver bullet, but it will help the least of us,” said Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles).
With 96 votes in favor of the legislation, House Democrats appear to have a veto-proof majority if Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) decides to veto it. In the House, 85 votes are needed to overturn a gubernatorial veto.