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The Dripby Fern Shen9:27 pmMar 6, 20170

$15 minimum wage bill, buoyed by a new City Council, advances

Following tonight’s 11-3 vote, final approval would move the bill to the mayor’s desk

Above: The City Council, which got eight new members, threw its support behind minimum wage legislation that the previous Council rejected. (Mark Reutter)

What a difference a new roster makes.

Last August, a bill to raise Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was batted down by the City Council, which voted 8-6 to send the measure “back to committee.”

Tonight, a younger, more progressive Council, elected in a change election last November, voted 11-3 to move the bill forward.

If it wins final passage and is signed by Mayor Catherine Pugh, Bill 17-0018 would require the new minimum wage to take effect by 2022.

For many, the bill will take even longer to go into effect. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees have until 2026 to comply. Workers under the age of 21 are exempted under the legislation, a provision that came under intense criticism from some advocates.

Still, supporters say it will significantly improve the lives of residents in an economically polarized city, particularly low-wage workers who struggle to make ends meet.

“It is time to share the wealth with the working people who helped create it,” said the bill’s lead sponsor and longtime quarterback, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.

“This is about bringing our city into the 21st Century and bringing our city closer together in fairness and equity,” Clarke said at the start of deliberations.

Opponents’ Amendments Failed

In heated and lengthy hearings, critics have argued the bill will cause jobs to leave the city, with some business owners and their representatives warning of serious consequences.

“There is a pretty good consensus among economists that for every 10 percent increase in the minimum wage there is a loss of employment levels,” deputy budget director Bob Cenname said at one hearing last  month.

Opponents of the measure – Councilmen Leon F. Pinkett III, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Eric T. Costello – introduced a series of amendments tonight.

Among them were exemptions for employers in “food desert areas” and for stores that accept food stamps and provisions to “pause” the law based on the unemployment rate or block its implementation if no nearby county followed suit and raised its minimum wage.

All were swiftly defeated by voice vote.

Voting in favor of the bill were Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, vice president Sharon Green Middleton and members Zeke Cohen, Brandon M. Scott, Ryan Dorsey, Bill Henry, Kristerfer Burnett, John Bullock, Edward Reisinger, Robert Stokes, Shannon Sneed and Clarke.

That margin would be enough to override a mayoral veto.

Pugh had made a campaign commitment to support a $15 minimum wage, but has since expressed concern that the measure might hurt employers.

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