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Md. House rejects minimum wage indexing

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Local,Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland House of Delegates on Wednesday turned against Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's plan to tie the minimum wage to inflation.

Del. Heather Mizeur, a Montgomery Democrat running for governor, proposed raising the minimum wage by 2 percent a year — roughly the lowest inflation that would be likely to rise in any given year. She said it would amount to 15 to 20 cents an hour.

This was a compromise from O'Malley's plan to tie the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Per O'Malley's recommendation, the bill still raises the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

But the House rejected Mizeur's suggestion with a 124-8 vote. Most delegates were following the House Economic Matters Committee's recommendation.

Del. Dereck Davis, a Democrat from Prince George's County and the committee's chairman, said any indexing provision had almost no chance of surviving Senate negotiations.

"I've had enough conversations with them to know that this provision is a nonstarter there," Davis said on the House floor. "It would not survive, from what I've been told."

Mizeur replied that these concerns shouldn't sway the House.

"I'd encourage this body to resist the notion that we should negotiate against ourselves on some theory of what the Senate will or will not accept," she said. "If we have to come up with some other agreement in conference, so be it."

In light of Wednesday's hearing, the minimum wage bill is now just one step away from a House decision. Speaker Michael Busch said the final House vote would occur Friday.

The indexing debate reflected a deeper difference in views. Mizeur sees $10.10 as the basic amount minimum-wage workers should make, whereas others think $10.10 is high enough to absorb inflation increases over the next few years.

Mizeur said 11 other states have indexed their minimum wage to inflation. But some delegates noted that none of those states have minimum wages as high as $10.10 an hour.

After the hearing, Mizeur criticized a "business-as-usual attitude" she sees in other lawmakers. She said they seldom vote against committee recommendations for fear of losing their own committee posts.

The House also rejected 11 other amendments Wednesday, mostly Republican measures to exempt certain companies or groups of workers. Del. Mark Fisher, R-Calvert, suggested exempting all businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The House rejected this 88-45.

The bill already exempts businesses with annual gross incomes of $250,000 or less, but Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, proposed exempting businesses that gross $500,000 or less. She said this would adjust for several decades' worth of inflation. The House rejected Krebs' amendment 83-47.

Other amendments rejected Wednesday would have exempted teens, senior citizens and people living in the country illegally.

Even without these changes, Davis said the House bill will differ broadly from whatever the Senate passes.

Del. Nic Kipke, the House minority leader, is holding out hope for the negotiations.

"Our work here isn't done," Kipke said.

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