By Renee Foose and Hannah Gaskill, Special to the AFRO

The AFRO is committed to keeping readers informed of legislation that impacts our community.  In the last week of the 2019 General Assembly, here is a brief round-up of several issues.

HB 166 Minimum Wage

The Maryland General Assembly voted last week to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill set to increase the state minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

This override comes after a veto letter was released by the governor’s office on stating that the wage hike “could cost us jobs, negatively impact our economic competitiveness, and devastate our state’s economy.” He, instead, offered a compromised increase to $12.10 by 2022.

The fight for $15 legislation, which will be enacted on June 1, will require state businesses employing more than 15 employees with an hourly wage to begin paying an hourly minimum of $11 on Jan. 1, 2020, with a gradual increase to $15 by 2025. Businesses with 14 or fewer employees paid hourly will follow suit but are not required to meet the $15 requirement until 2026. The legislation will have no effect on the pay of waiters or bartenders.

Sen. Cory McCray (D-District 45) who sponsored the bill is looking to make Maryland a more cost-effective, livable state. “The reality is we have a high cost of being able to live in Maryland,” said McCray. “This is not about a hand-out–this about a hand-up.”

Maryland’s current minimum wage, which was raised last year, rests at $10.10.

SB 879 Black History Month

A bill that would require public schools to devote a part of the academic day during the month of February to Black Marylanders of historical significance has passed its third reading in both the Senate and House of Delegates.

In 2007, it became required for the governor to annually declare February as Black History Month, with the intention that public schools and cultural organizations would recognize the contributions of Black Americans through ceremonies and programs.

If enacted, the legislation would require curriculum to place an emphasis on Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and their contributions to end slavery as a part of Maryland public school’s Black History Month Curriculum. Tubman and Douglass, both historically known for their major contributions to the abolitionist movement, were born into slavery in Maryland.

Harriet Tubman was born in Dorchester County. She became a spy for the Union and is most famous for her work leading slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. Later in her life, she was a contributor to the movement for women’s suffrage.

Frederick Douglass was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Upon escaping from slavery, he became a lecturer at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, was a chief opponent of the fugitive slave law and took part in the first convention for women’s rights in Seneca Falls, New York. He later became an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln.

If enacted, the bill would take effect on October 1, 2019.

SB 301 Patient Bill of Rights

The senate passed a bill requiring health care providers in hospitals to communicate patient rights in more transparent ways. Specifically, hospitals are required to display on websites and public areas in healthcare settings patient’s Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights in Maryland requires hospitals to provide patient care that includes assessment, management and treatment of illnesses and conditions as an integral component of care. Hospitals are also required to make necessary accommodations to ensure patients that need assistance to understand the Bill of Rights receive help.

“If you can’t read or have hearing problems, the hospital needs to provide you with an interpreter, a lot of people don’t know their rights,” said NAACP Vice President Wandra Ashley-Williams.  “Some hospitals are good about this, but there is inconsistency throughout the state.”

HB 1238 Ex-Offenders having opportunity to work

A bill designed to help ex-offenders and exonerated inmates have opportunities to work will not make it through the General Assembly this year.

The legislation would have required vendors doing business with the State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to give certain minority-owned business preference in the procurement of contracts if the business employed a large percentage of ex-offenders.

“We are disappointed that this bill did not make it through, but we generated a lot of interest and we will be bringing it back next year,” said NAACP Vice President Wandra Ashley-Williams.  “There are many vendors who support this, and who are willing to hire ex-offenders.”

“I’m very disappointed this failed,” said NAACP President Gerald Stansbury.  “There was a zero-dollar fiscal note with this initiative, people have a right to work. They made a mistake and they’ve paid for it.  We will be bringing it back next year,” he said.