Increased minimum wage, expanded pre-K options highlight O'Malley's final legislative adgenda

ANNAPOLIS - Gov. Martin O'Malley officially unveiled his legislative agenda for the 2014 General Assembly session, which includes a push for increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2016.

According to a news release from O'Malley's office, his legislation would also index the minimum wage to the rate to inflation beginning in 2017, while also increasing the wage rate for tipped workers from 50 percent to at least 70 percent of the minimum wage.

"We're going to forge consensus and increase the minimum wage -- when workers earn more money, businesses will have more customers, and we'll grow Maryland's economy from the middle out," said O'Malley in a statement. "Thanks to the leadership of the General Assembly over the last seven years, we've made better choices and achieved better results for the people of Maryland; we're going to continue making progress this year."

Also included in O'Malley's legislative package is including $4.3 million in his Fiscal 2013 budget to expand pre-kindergarten opportunities for 1,600 additional children. His proposal would build on the state's existing Pre-K system by expanding the number of slots available to include Maryland children whose families make between 185 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which was $70,650 for a family of four in 2013.

In addition, O'Malley is proposing legislation to designate new wildland areas on state lands including state parks, state forests and wildlife management areas.  O'Malley said this will preserve the state's wilderness and encourage ecotourism to stimulate local economies.

On the public safety front, O'Malley will seek to codify several elements of a 2008 executive order establishing the Maryland Statewide Communications Interoperability Program, an effort to strengthen public safety radio communications throughout the state.

According to O'Malley, the legislation "creates a board to oversee the final development, operations and management of this program and advances the state's efforts to create a unified public safety communications network for first responders to better communicate during emergency and extreme weather events."

There is also legislation being proposed to end Maryland's status as the only state in the nation whose standard of proof to obtain a final peace or protective order is "clear and convincing evidence" to a "preponderance of evidence."  

Another bill will add second-degree assault to the list of crimes for which domestic violence victims can obtain a final permanent protective order. Also, there is a bill that will give judges the ability to impose an enhanced penalty for violent crimes when they are committed in the presence of a minor.

On the health care front, Maryland recently introduced a health care reform proposal that will reduce health care costs for Maryland families by getting away from the "fee-for-service" model and incentivizes health care providers to focus on wellness.

To support the establishment of Maryland's new modernized all-payer model – which received approval from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently – the bill introduced today makes several statutory changes. The new model will transition health care in Maryland from a system that bases control of cost on a per inpatient admission to a system that spurs better health outcomes, while encouraging hospitals to help reduce the cost of care.

O'Malley also introduced legislation to provide a bridge to care through the extension of the MHIP program to vulnerable Marylanders. This comes after the discovery that as many as 5,000 residents who attempted to enroll in the Maryland Health Exchange and who through no fault of their own, are without insurance.

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