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Considering the Wal-Mart bill

January 12, 2006

One of the items the Maryland General Assembly is expected to take up today is the governor's veto of the so-called Wal-Mart bill.

The bill mandates that firms with more than 10,000 employees spend at least 8 percent of payroll on health-care insurance. Under that definition, in Maryland only Wal-Mart would be affected.

There has been a split in the business community statewide on this bill, with some business owners who feel their stores have been undercut by Wal-Mart backing the bill.

Other business leaders fear that if this bill stands, it will do two things, neither of them positive.

Their first fear is that once this bill is passed, it would be relatively easy for lawmakers to drop the threshold for the businesses it affects. Today the number is 10,000, but who is to say that next year or the year after it won't be cut to say, 250 or less?

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Yes, businesses that offer health care to their employees are doing the right thing. But if, for example, Maryland has such a mandate and Pennsylvania does not, wouldn't that put Maryland at a competitive disadvantage?

The other problem some in business fear is that this bill mandates expenditures by private business.

Not that some expenditures aren't mandated now. Restaurants must spend enough to pass health inspections and keep the public safe. Certain other companies must drug-test employees for safety reasons as well.

What disturbs us about this bill is that begins with the premise that business isn't going to do the right thing and attempts to coerce it.

What we liked about former Gov. Parris Glendening's "Smart Growth" plan is that it rewarded good decisions instead of punishing governments that encouraged sprawl. It may be too late for such an approach on the Wal-Mart bill, but it should be mandatory in the future.

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