By Megan Brockett
Several Republican lawmakers on the Maryland House floor Wednesday voiced persisting opposition to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s measure to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, proposing a slew of changes to the bill that would chip away at many of its provisions.
Lawmakers offered up more than a dozen amendments that focused mostly on creating broader exemptions for small businesses or expanding protections for employers with seasonal workers. None of the amendments passed during Wednesday’s heated debate. The House is scheduled to vote on the wage increase Friday.
Earlier this week, the House Economic Matters Committee voted to amend the legislation, postponing the raise’s implementation for six months and eliminating a provision that would have indexed the minimum wage to rise automatically with inflation.
The committee also altered the bill to exempt seasonal amusement parks and recreational establishments, like swimming pools, from having to pay the proposed higher rate. Committee chairman Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, said these types of seasonal businesses employ mostly young people, and the exemption helps to keep job opportunities for that population intact.
But several House Republicans said the exemption favors Six Flags in Prince George’s County and fails to offer adequate protection to smaller-scale, year-round amusement parks like Adventure Park USA in Frederick County.
Critics said an increase would hurt these smaller amusement parks, which have to compete with parks in surrounding states where the minimum wage sits at the federal $7.25 an hour rate.
“The Six Flags thing is really the elephant in the room,” said House minority leader, Delegate Nicholaus R. “Nic” Kipke, R-Anne Arundel.
He spoke ardently in favor of an amendment that would remove parks owned by publicly-traded companies, like Six Flags, from the exemption.
Kipke said that, as it stands, the exemption gives a corporation that has had “booming profits” unfair protection against the “harsh and harmful effects of a $10.10 minimum wage,” while the small businesses, who need the protection, are left uncovered.
Delegate Michael McDermott, R-Worcester, also pointed to Six Flags in his push for a measure that would carve out an exemption for seasonal businesses in Ocean City. McDermott pleaded with lawmakers to consider the effect a minimum wage increase might have on an area that has to compete with other vacation spots in neighboring states, like Bethany Beach, Del.
“If you can see it for a sector like Six Flags,” McDermott said, “if you can [understand] how [an increase] impacts that industry, I’m going to take a look at the broader picture and say, ‘Can you not see how it impacts an entire region?’”
The Eastern Shore delegate engaged in a heated exchange with Davis over the issue, and when Davis asked if he would support the bill if the amendment passed, McDermott said he wouldn’t be tied to it.
“We’re not race horses here with blinders on,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to take the blinders off and look at the whole picture and where this impacts … It’s about doing the right thing on this bill and making it work. I certainly can’t vote for it if it’s going to be a blinded bill that favors one over another.”
While Republicans seemed to be pushing for a compromise, Davis expressed confidence that the measure would pass, amended or not, telling McDermott he didn’t need his vote.
“I think it will pass without you,” he said.
Delegate Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, offered the only amendment that sought to extend the bill’s reach rather than limit it.
Mizeur, who is running for governor, pushed for a return to a provision under the original measure that would peg the minimum wage to rise automatically with inflation. Her amendment was defeated by a vote of 124 to 8.
The Senate version of the bill is awaiting a vote by members of the Finance Committee.