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HHS committee split on minimum wage bill

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ROCKVILLE – The County Council continued their debate over raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour during a Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee meeting Wednesday.

The committee discussed Bill 12-16, which would gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

Montgomery County is in the middle of a minimum wage increase after the Council passed a bill raising the minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by July of 2017. The current minimum wage in the County is $10.75 per hour.

Under Bill 12-16, the County would raise the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour in 2018, $13.75 per hour by 2019 and $15 per hour by 2020 and tie it to inflation after that.

Council member George Leventhal (D-At large) voted for the bill favor while Council member Craig Rice (D-2) voted against it. The new County Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) abstained.

The council discussed issues with raising the minimum wage such as the potential impact on businesses and the potential benefits for lower end workers.

“The growth at the top, the substantial profits of business owners are not being fairly or equably distributed among the entire work force,” Leventhal said. “That’s true throughout the United States, it’s true throughout the world and it’s true in Montgomery County. “

Council member Sidney Katz (D-3), a former small business owner, said he worries how raising the minimum wage would impact businesses. He cited social payments, workers compensation, unemployment, rent, electricity and insurance.

“I worry, and I am using the word worry, that we are putting burdens on businesses beyond what they can afford. The hourly payment of wages is but one cost of paying a person who works at the job,” Katz said.

Council members Leventhal, Hans Riemer (D-At large), Nancy Navarro (D-4) and Tom Hucker (D-5) are co-sponsors on the bill sponsored by Council member Marc Elrich (D-At large).

County Executive Ike Leggett said in memorandum he is opposed to the bill as it is currently written, adding he would prefer the Council increase the time frame for implementing the proposed $15 per hour minimum wage.

Leggett also said he would want the bill to give the County Executive the authority to stop an automatic increase from taking effect in case of a economic downturn, what is being called an “off ramp.”

Leventhal said he would support adding the “off ramp” to the bill.

If Leggett vetoes an increase in the minimum wage, it would require six votes on the council to override the Executive Veto.

Council members Katz, Berliner and Nancy Floreen (D-At large) said they are not opposed to increasing the minimum wage but are worried how increasing the minimum wage again could affect businesses.

They said they would prefer to wait for an economic impact study on a proposed minimum wage increase.

Rice said he is also not opposed to raising the minimum wage but said he think it won’t help those already unemployed, namely African-American youth.

The issue of whether the council would commission the Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) to commission a study on the bill caused some contention among the council members.

Berliner said he wants the council to vote on the OLO study before the Council takes up the bill itself.

If the council decides to authorize a study, a vote on the bill would likely be delayed till fall of 2017, but Berliner said it would not delay the implementation date of the bill, as it would not go into effect until 2018.

“Let’s get every bit of data we can to help us make the most informed decision we can because it is that important,” Berliner said. “So I’d be among those who suggest that we put the pause button on for this moment in time, have our team get all the data they can to help us understand this and report back to us in September (and) move on this bill in October (or) November.”

Elrich said the council should not delay voting when it has majority support on the council.

Berliner, as council president, decides the council’s agenda and said he would rather take a vote on the study of the effects minimum wage before the council votes on the minimum wage bill.

“I don’t understand how a proposal that doesn’t have five sponsors gets dealt with before a proposal that has five sponsors,” Elrich said. “I mean, how do you try to prioritize something which does not have a majority of the council support over a bill that has a majority of the council support? That seems to me, from the time I’ve been here, an unusual use of power.”

Other jurisdictions such as Seattle, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have passed similar minimum wage proposals. 

@neal_earley

 

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