U.S.
Charles Dharapak/AP

Maryland to raise minimum wage to $10.10, among highest in nation

Hike comes a month after a similar move in Connecticut, as Obama pushes for higher wages across the U.S.

The Maryland legislature approved raising the state's minimum wage on Monday to $10.10 an hour, equaling the highest state rate in the nation and drawing praise from President Barack Obama.

The Democratic-controlled House of Delegates approved passage, 87 to 47, and sent the bill to Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who had made the measure a priority and is expected to sign it.

Maryland's minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour and was last raised in 2006. The bill would raise it in stages to $10.10 in July 2018. Connecticut last month passed legislation raising its minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.

Supporters say the bill will help low-wage earners and inject more money into Maryland's economy.

"That money will be circulated throughout the economy and the city and the state," said Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Democrat.

Municipalities have also been pushing for minimum wage hikes in recent years. The Washington, D.C., city council late last year passed a measure raising its minimum wage to $11.50 per hour by 2016. Workers in Sonoma, Calif., have the highest minimum rate of any municipality, $15.38 per hour.

Obama has pushed Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from $7.25, after nearly half the states and the District of Columbia raised theirs. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has rejected his call.

Obama has unilaterally hiked the wages of some federal employees and has called income inequality "the defining challenge of our time."

"Maryland's important action is a reminder that many states, cities and counties — as well as a majority of the American people — are way ahead of Washington on this crucial issue," Obama said in a statement.

The measure approved by the Maryland Senate kept a provision passed by the House that freezes the minimum wage at $3.63 for tipped workers. Currently, the state requires tipped workers to be paid 50 percent of the minimum wage. O'Malley sought to raise that to 70 percent.

The bill also includes an exemption for cafes, drugstores and restaurants that sell food and drink for consumption on the premises with an annual gross income of $400,000.

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