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The Maryland House of Delegates has given final approval to a bill raising the minimum wage in the state. The measure now heads to the Senate.
Debate before the final vote lasted about an hour on the House floor. Opponents argued the state should defer to the federal government on whether to raise the minimum wage, as Maryland's neighboring states like Virginia are not hiking their wage.
"The minimum wage was never intended to be a lifetime wage. It was intended to be something to get people into the workforce. It was your first job, how you started life," said Howard County Republican Warren Miller. "It's unfortunate that since the recession in 2008 we've lost jobs nationally. It's unfortunate that people are living off a minimum wage. But that's not the intent of the National Fair Labor Standards Act."
But supporters say too many people are living off the minimum wage, which hasn't gone up in a decade. Prince George's County Democrat Aisha Braveboy recently went grocery shopping with minimum-wage earners who say they are not able to afford healthier food for their children.
"One woman brought two of her children with her. And they told me how much they loved fresh fruit and fresh vegetables. But guess what? Their mother cannot afford to purchase it for them," said Del. Braveboy. "When they're lucky, they can buy one fresh apple, and split it between two children."
The bill, which raises the state's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, survived 14 attempted changes before a preliminary vote was taken earlier this week. One of the changes was when the wage will go up — under the new version of the bill, the $10.10 figure will not be reached until the year 2017, six months later than first proposed.
Many exemptions were also given to businesses to avoid paying the higher wage — including amusement parks — but Prince George's County Democrat Dereck Davis maintains the bill is still very beneficial to workers.
"They're going to see an immediate — well, maybe not an immediate increase — but over the phase-in period they're going to see an increase that's going to add more money for families to allow them to pay bills or purchase things that they otherwise would have to make decisions on," he says.
The final vote tally was 89-47. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it faces a steeper road to approval.