The Maryland Senate voted Saturday to increase the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8 in January, the first in a series of incremental hikes that will lead to a $10.10 wage in July 2018.
The Senate voted 34-13, with all of the support coming from Democratic senators. All 12 of the Senate's Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill.
After the increase to $8 in January, the wage would go up to $8.25 in July 2015; $8.75 in July 2016; $9.25 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018. Supporters say the bill will help low-wage earners and inject more money into the economy.
``That money will be circulated throughout the economy, and the city and the state,'' said Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Democrat.
Opponents, however, said the increases could hurt businesses and result in some of them reducing low-wage jobs, particularly those for young seasonal workers.
``This is something where I think all of us want our citizens to earn as much as they possibly can, but I worry about the consequences,'' said Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.
Senators made a change to the bill on the Senate floor that affects amusement parks. Under the amendment, amusement parks like Six Flags in Prince George's County could pay 85 percent of the state's minimum wage for the first six months of employees under 20, keeping amusement parks in line with a general provision in the measure relating to a training period for young workers.
The bill includes a provision to give community service providers who work with the developmentally disabled a raise to keep their salaries above the minimum wage. That provision was added by the Senate and would need House approval to send the bill to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who has made the bill a top priority of the session.
Senators were mindful not to make many other significant changes, out of concern it would present difficulties in securing House passage, as the legislative session is scheduled to end midnight Monday.
The measure approved by the Senate kept a provision passed by the House that freezes the minimum wage at $3.63 for tipped workers. Currently, the state requires tipped workers to be paid 50 percent of the minimum wage. Gov. Martin O'Malley had sought to raise that to 70 percent.
The bill also includes an exemption of paying minimum wage at cafes, drugstores and restaurants that sell food and drink for consumption on the premises with an annual gross income of $400,000.
The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Sen. Joseph Getty, R-Carroll, that would have raised the exemption threshold to $600,000 on a 23-24 vote.