Minimum wage increase is stalled in Senate committee
Wednesday, 02 April 2014 14:07

Decriminalization of marijuana bill unlikely to pass

by Bill Gates

    With a remarkably drama-free General Assembly session in its final week, very few major issues remain unresolved.
    The big one is legislation intended to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10/hour from its current $7.25.
    The bill passed the House of Delegates but has been stalled in the Senate.
    The key obstacle has been Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
    Middleton has said he won’t bring the minimum wage bill up for a vote unless its tied to an increase for people who work with the developmentally disabled.
    He wants wages for those workers, which are paid by the state, to be kept at 135 percent of the minimum wage.
    Otherwise, Middleton believes, it will be difficult to attract people to care for the developmentally disabled.

“I do expect that a bill will pass, but I would not be surprised to see a different amount than initially proposed or a longer phase-in once the legislation makes it through the Senate,” Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District) said.
    “Increasing wages for those who give care to the developmentally disbled remains entangled with the minimum wage issue, and it will be interesting to see if that remains a sticking point in negotiations.”
    Olszewski expects those negotiations to last until the final night of the session on Monday.
    Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill earlier in the session decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
    The bill is not expected to pass the House of Delegates.
    “I do not expect to see a vote taken in the House to decriminalize or legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Olszewski said.
    Both legislative bodies passed bills reworking the sale of medical marijuana in the state.
    The Senate’s bill allowed the state medical marijuana commission to set the number of licensed  growers to produce and distribute marijuana, while the House version would set a limit of 10 licensed growers.
    “I expect a compromise to happen,” Olszewski said.
    The last major issue — apart from the budget, which looks like it will be passed without major disagreements — is bail reform.
    A recent Maryland court decision requires the state to provide attorneys for poor defendants at bail hearings.
    “The legislature must act before June 6 to avoid significant cost increases throughout the court process,” Olszewski said. “Without action, the Court of Appeals could force every county to meet the need for lawyers by paying for indivdual private attorneys.”
    Several vastly different proposals are currently being discussed, Olszewski said. One would develop a data-based screening mechanism which would replace the initial court hearing with a an automated system that utilizes criminal history.
    Another would amend the state constitution to allow court employees use some data tools to make bail decisions.
    “Other options are being explored,” Olszewski said.