**FILE** The sun begins to rise over the Maryland State House on January 16, 2019 in Annapolis. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
**FILE** The sun begins to rise over the Maryland State House on January 16, 2019 in Annapolis. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland inched closer to gradually increasing the state’s minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2025.

The House of Delegates voted 96-44 Friday for the bill, which now goes to the Senate.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Del. Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor, who sponsored the legislation. “I’m happy in reference to my colleagues voting for the fight for $15 and believing in the plight of … over 573,000 people that will benefit for this minimum wage [increase]. It’s long overdue.”

Prior to Friday’s vote, lawmakers debated the bill for nearly 90 minutes, with a group of Republicans attempting to sway their Democratic counterparts on its negative effect on small businesses.

Del. Trent Kittleman, a Republican who represents portions of Carroll and Howard counties, read two letters from merchants pleading to not pass the legislation.

“There were 44 small business owners who took the time from all corners of the state to tell their stories in a way I’ve never heard before,” said Kittleman, who voted against the measure.

Several Republican delegates said businesses from their area of the Eastern Shore would be forced to downsize, relocate or close.

Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Democrat from the shore who voted for the legislation, disagreed.

“There’s another face to the Eastern Shore and that face is small and many other minorities who stand on the means of ensuring that they have equitable wages,” Sample-Hughes said. “We cannot perpetuate poverty. That’s what we’re continuously doing if we don’t ensure that these people have livable wages.”

Now it will be the Senate’s turn to review and debate the measure sponsored by Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City).

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan hasn’t expressed any support for it, so it’s possible he may veto the measure if it reaches his desk.

The state’s current minimum hourly wage stands at $10.10. Under the legislation approved Friday, it would increase to $11 by January 2020, then by 75 cents every year and finally by $1 to $15 by January 2025.

Several business leader and advocate groups are pleased with the House vote, but said it didn’t go far enough, citing a previous bill that proposed increasing the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2023.

“We continue to hear from business organizations and business leaders across Maryland calling for an increase to $15 by 2023, and to indexing wages thereafter so the minimum wage keeps up with the cost of living rather than falling behind,” Alissa Barron-Menza, vice president of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, said in a statement. “As the bill moves to the Senate, we assert that Maryland needs a stronger wage floor under the economy and a more robust increase makes good business sense now.”

Elsewhere the D.C. metropolitan area, the District’s minimum wage currently sits at $13.25 per hour and will increase to $14 in July and then to $15 by July 2020.

Across the border in Virginia, the minimum wage equals the federal level at $7.25 per hour and has been so since 2009. A proposal to increase the rate to $15 an hour was voted down in the state Senate.

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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