PG State Delegate proposes bill to let state control minimum wage in private sector

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD — A Prince George’s County State Delegate has proposed legislation that would take away the ability of local governments to set the minimum wage for the private sector, instead making it a state issue.

"It’s going to controversial,” said Del. Dereck E. Davis when he spoke about the legislation earlier this week at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s legislative forum. “Essentially, what the bill would do, it would take all wage and benefits, and make them the domain of the state. So, if successful, the bill would preempt local governments from passing their own minimum wage bills.”

Response from supporters of increasing the minimum wage criticized the legislation and said wages should be a local issue.

"To undercut the voters like that, and to undercut the legislators like that, and to take that power for the state level, really feels like it goes against everything that American democracy is about,” said Jews United for Justice Deputy Director Rabbi Elizabeth Richman.

"Dereck wasn’t elected by anybody in Montgomery County, he doesn’t represent anybody in Montgomery County, and he shouldn’t be legislating for Montgomery County,” added Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich. Elrich proposed the $15-an-hour minimum wage bill that was recently passed in this county, but was vetoed this week by County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett.

At the forum, Davis told the audience that the legislation is needed to keep Maryland business competitive with the rest of the region.

"When they have all of these rules, regulations, different laws, it makes it impossible not only to compete with those outside of the state, but really to just be able to operate a business in the state," added Davis.

But Prince George's County State Senator C. Anthony Muse disagrees with that assessment.

"Whether it’s the Eastern Shore, whether it’s Frederick, whether it’s Montgomery County, nothing makes anything more competitive," said Muse. He added the demographic differences in the state makes the bill unfeasible. "Living expenses, for example in Prince George's or Montgomery County, is a lot higher than on the Eastern Shore...You can't apply a cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all."

Charles County Delegate C.T. Wilson is one of the bill's two co-sponsors. He said it is difficult for businesses to keep up with the rapid changes of regulations in the state, and even more so when local jurisdictions are doing their own thing.

"So, moving forward we are one Maryland. We need to be one Maryland. This helps us to be more like one Maryland," said Wilson. He added the private sector should be able to determine their own wages. "Businesses can, if they choose to, pay whatever they chose to, which would be competitive in those markets. If those markets are as they say, those businesses will choose to be competitive by having those increased wages."

The bill has a hearing in the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee, which is chaired by Davis, on February 7 at 1 p.m.