(CNSNews.com) - Maryland on Thursday passed a law requiring large, private companies doing business in the state to spend at least eight percent of their payroll on employee health benefits. The Fair Share Health Care law is aimed at Wal-Mart.
Although the state's Republican governor vetoed the bill earlier this year, the state House and Senate overrode that veto on Thursday, to the delight of labor unions and Wal-Mart foes.
"The vote expands health care for workers, stops large, profitable companies from shifting their health care costs onto taxpayers, and makes sure all large, profitable employers pay their fair share for health care," said Paul Blank of WakeUpWalMart.com, a union-affiliated group that says it wants to change the way Wal-Mart does business.
Blank said Maryland lawmakers have "set a trailblazing example that other states will follow." WakeUpWalMart.com said it plans to introduce Fair Share Health Care legislation in at least 30 states this year.
Under the legislation, companies with more than 10,000 employees in Maryland that don't spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care will be required to pay into the state's Medicaid fund.
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. has called the bill irresponsible - and warned it will directly threaten jobs and economic development in Maryland, if large companies move out of Maryland.
Some Republican lawmakers warned that while Wal-Mart is targeted today, smaller companies eventually may be forced to pick up more of their employees' health care tab.
The Washington Post quoted Wal-Mart spokesman Nate Hurst as saying the bill passed because of partisan politics.
"This vote was never about health care," the newspaper quoted Hurst as saying. "In allowing a bad bill to become a bad law, the General Assembly took a giant step backward and placed the special interests of Washington, D.C., union leaders ahead of the well-being of the people they serve. And that's wrong."
WakeupWalMart.com accuses Wal-Mart of "exploiting" its workers. "This vote proves, if Wal-Mart won't choose to do the right thing on its own, the American people and their lawmakers will hold them accountable," Paul Blank said.
Wal-Mart, which advertises low prices, rejects labor unions for its employees.
Earlier this year, several congressional Democrats -- Sens. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) Jon Corzine (N.J.) and Rep Anthony Weiner (N.Y.) -- introduced a bill called the Health Care Accountability Act, which would require states to name companies that have 50 or more employees receiving tax-funded health care.
Democrats said the bill would show how much taxpayer money is "subsidizing the health care costs of large, profitable corporations like Wal-Mart." Kennedy charged that Wal-Mart "doesn't want to pay their fair share for health insurance for their employees," who then must receive health coverage through taxpayer-funded plans like Medicaid.
A Wal-Mart spokesman told Cybercast News Service in June that the issue is "much broader than Wal-Mart," and that Democrats should be addressing "meaningful health-care reform" instead.
See Earlier Stories:
Leaders of Faith Mark Holiday Season by Bashing Wal-Mart (12 Dec. 2005)
Union Group Launches 'Association' for Wal-Mart Workers (4 Nov. 2005)
Protesters Target 'Shocking, Secret' Wal-Mart Memo (28 Oct. 2005)
Democrat Holds Field Hearing on Wal-Mart's Business Practices (20 Sept. 2005)
Kennedy, Union Execs Blast Wal-Mart on Health Benefits (23 June 2005)
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