Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor speaks during a Jan. 14 press conference in Annapolis to support legislation to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Fennell will introduce legislation in the House and state Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore City (second from left) will present similar legislation in the Senate. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor speaks during a Jan. 14 press conference in Annapolis to support legislation to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Fennell will introduce legislation in the House and state Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore City (second from left) will present similar legislation in the Senate. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Supporters and opponents of proposed legislation to raise Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 an hour may soon flock to the state capital for what’s expected to result in hours of heated testimony.

That’s because the bill, sponsored by Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor, has been slated for public hearing before the House Economic Matters Committee – the date of which will be announced very soon.

“I would say sometime by mid-February,” said Dereck E. Davis (D-District 25) of Mitchellville who chairs the committee. “Once it comes, we’ll get to work.”

Similar legislation sponsored by state Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore City will be reviewed by the Senate’s Finance Committee.

Lawmakers, activists, business owners and workers pushed for legislation last year to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage. And while the House moved forward on a bill, it didn’t receive much traction in the more conservative Senate.

“One-third of the Senate has changed,” said McCray, who became elected from the House in November. “When people see others struggling and you know it’s your family member, you know your neighbor’s story, you know your community’s story, it’s [uplifting].”

But McCray and others will try to convince non-supporters such as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford who briefly explained in an interview that minimum wage jobs resemble entry-level positions for young people to gain employment experience.

He said the focus should be on initiatives such as the state’s Apprenticeship and Training Program. Hogan announced in September the state had reached 10,000 registered for future workers to learn about careers in manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology.

“At some point, you go to $15 an hour and the person who already makes $15 an hour has to go to $17 and the person who is making $17 has to go to $19 or $20,” Rutherford said. “In three to five years, that $15 an hour is going to be the same thing as the $10 an hour now. What we should be focusing on is skilled-development and not just an arbitrary decision to increase someone’s pay.”

Rutherford also said the minimum wage increase would hurt small businesses. Organizations such as the Restaurant Association of Maryland opposed last year’s legislation because it would force local merchants to either decrease their number of employees or shut down.

Brian England, owner of BA Auto Care in Columbia, said it would do the opposite.

“I see working people having to choose between replacing bald tires or a new battery,” said England who’s operated his business since 1978. “When businesses pay more, it’s good for all businesses because their employees become consumers.”

The “Fight for $15” movement began in 2012 when fast food workers in New York City demanded a minimum wage increase and the right to form a union.

The movement in Maryland coincides this year with five other states, according to the National Employment Law Project. The nonprofit organization based in New York City released an analysis last month indicating 13 cities and counties that have reached or exceeded the $15 an hour wage as of Jan. 1.

The minimum wage currently in Maryland increased to $10.10 in July.

According to the draft legislation, the minimum wage would gradually increase as follows:

$11.50 per hour starting July 1, 2020;

$13 per hour starting July 1, 2021;

$14 per hour starting July 1, 2022; and

$15 per hour starting July 1, 2023.

Tipped wages would also gradually increase to $15 an hour for employees who receive more than $30 each month in tips.

A Gonzales Research & Media Services of Arnold, Maryland, released this month showed 61 percent of registered voters favor a law that requires employers in the state to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The figure increases to 81 percent among Black voters in the poll conducted between Dec. 28 and Jan. 4 among 809 registered voters.

Some workers like Zoila Montiflores of Langley Park said through an interpreter she’s among those who receive $10 an hour.

“We immediately need a raise in our minimum wage. We can’t survive on what we’re earning now,” said Montiflores who works as a prep cook at the Washington and Baltimore convention centers. “Many of us are working two jobs and that’s affecting our health and our families; it’s affecting our lives.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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