There’s a push to put the tipped wage debate on the ballot in Maryland

Every tipped worker deserves a raise, according to Maryland Democratic Del. Adrian Boafo.

But the strategy to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from $3.63 an hour to $15 an hour is shifting. Instead of trying to get a bill passed in both chambers of the General Assembly in Annapolis, there’s now a push to get the issue before voters in November.

Boafo told WTOP in an interview, that after a hearing before a Maryland House panel Feb. 1, it became clear that “there needed to be greater public education on the issue.” He also noted that every other state that has succeeded in passing measures boosting minimum wages for tipped workers has taken the issue to the ballot.

Opponents of the measure, including the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said wait staff and bartenders can already make far more than the $15 an hour minimum wage when tips are factored in.

At the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1, Melvin Thompson, with the Restaurant Association of Maryland, told lawmakers similar measures failed in two of the state’s largest counties.

“They rejected this in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties after they heard from local restaurant owners and local servers,” Thompson said.

Boafo told WTOP, “Look, I was a server myself,” and the goal of the measure aimed at tipped workers is simple.

“We want to make sure that they get $15 an hour with tips on top,” Boafo said.

The move to get the measure on the ballot could be challenging, Boafo conceded.

First, it has to clear the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, and given the large number of bills already filed, that could be a tall order for the tipped wages issue “because it’s a late-filed bill,” Boafo said.

And the measure would have to clear the legislature with a three-fifths majority. But “this is the first-year effort, it oftentimes takes multiple years to get something like this done,” Boafo added. “This is the start of the conversation.”

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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