Assembly session comes to a close
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 12:51

State budget includes several local benefits

by Bill Gates

Minimum-wage earners in Maryland will be getting a raise, while state marijuana users will be getting a break.
    As the General Assembly session ended on Monday, bills passed raising the state minimum wage and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
    They were two of the biggest issues in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s final session.
    Raising the minimum wage was one of O’Malley’s main goals for the session, while he has reversed an earlier position and said on Monday he will sign the marijuana bill.
    The increase in the minimum wage will be phased in until it reaches $10.10 per hour in 2018.
    Currently $7.25 (the federally-mandated level), the state minimum wage will raise to $8 in January 2015 and increase by 25 cents six months later.
    The next hike, to $8.75, will take place on July 1, 2016, and then increase to $9.25 one year later.
    The $10.10 level will take effect on July 1, 2018.
    The bill also extends from three months to six months the ability for businesses to have a training wage for employees under the age of 21.
    The training wage must be 85 percent of the minimum wage.

The exemption for bars and taverns that serve food for consumption on their premises has been increased from $250,000 to $400,000 in revenue.
    “We worked hard to bring people together and forge the consensus necessary to make this important progress possible,” O’Malley said in a statement. “I commend the General Assembly for giving so many Maryland families the raise they deserve.”
    Part of that consensus was to raise the pay of state employees who care for the developmentally disabled.
    Sen. Thomas Middleton, a Democrat, had threatened to not let the minimum wage bill out of the Senate Finance Committee until an agreement was reached to insure people who care for the developmentally disabled would be paid more than the minimum wage.
    Marijuana decriminalization was felt by some legislators to be several years away — and, until the last weekend of the session, it looked like the bill would not make it to the floor of the House of Delegates for a vote (a version had already passed the Senate last month).
    “A compromise was reached that creates increasingly larger fines for repeat offenses,” said Del. John Olszewski Jr. (6th District). “And for allowing both repeat offenders and those under 21 years of age to be ordered into education and treatment programs.”
    Olszewski pointed out that marijuana possession is still against the law, but that now possession of the smallest amounts (less than 10 grams) will be viewed as a civil rather than a ciminal offense.
    Offenders, therefore, will not have a criminal record.
    “I now think decriminalizing the possession of marijuana is an acknowledgement of the low priority our courts, our prosecutors, our police and the vast majority of our citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”
State budget
    The operating and capital budgets not only passed without controversy, but include several benefits for the Dundalk-Edgemere area.
    The Dundalk Renaissance Corp. is receiving $175,000 for renovating the office space of the organization and creating a “business incubator.”
    “These changes will allow the DRC to continue the work of revitalizing the historic communities of downtown Dundalk,” Olszewski said. “And to develop space for the smallest of businesses to get off the ground and hopefully become more robust businesses in the community.”
    An additional $1 million was also included for the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Development Initiative (BRNDI) to provide for continued housing stock improvement throughout the Baltimore area.
    “The DRC was awarded nearly $900,000 last year under this program,” Olszewski said. “And we hope additional funding might be secured again this year to continue renovating housing and providing important community programming.”
    Olszewski’s wife Marisa is an officer of the DRC.
    There is also $2.5 million toward the creation of  a new Eastern Family Resource Center, and a prior bond bill authorizations were amended to insure Todd’s Inheritance in Edgemere and the Centerpiece Project in Dundalk will continue to be able to access existing state funds for their improvements.