A federal judge has struck down Maryland's so-called “WalMart law” which required WalMart to spend 8 percent of its payroll on health care for employees in Maryland. The law, passed by the Maryland legislature, vetoed by the governor, then over-ridden by the legislature was not so much aimed at providing WalMart's Maryland employees with better health care as much as it was aimed against WalMart by organized labor in an effort to punish WalMart. But it was generally accepted that the law wouldn't pass judicial muster. It turns out that the perception was correct.
US District Judge J. Frederick Motz decided that the Maryland Fair Share Health Care Fund Act would have hurt WalMart by requiring it to track and allocate benefits for its Maryland employees in a different way from how it keeps track of employee benefits in other states. Motz wrote that the law “imposes legally cognizable injury upon WalMart.”
Despite the outcome that has spared WalMart the necessity of doing something that no other business in the state had to do, many feel that the “WalMart law” has hurt Maryland's commercial reputation.
"The harm that gets done by proposing, passing and overruling a veto [of the bill] is much longer lasting than a sweet victory in court," said Aris Melissaratos, the secretary of the state's Department of Business and Economic Development.
In a 32-page opinion issued yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge J. Frederick Motz granted a motion declaring that the Wal-Mart bill is pre-empted by a federal law and is therefore invalid. He did not deem it unconstitutional as some business leaders had hoped, though it appears to target one company. The opinion was part of a lawsuit filed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association - a trade group that counts Wal-Mart as a member - against Maryland's Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
The failure of the WalMart law to stand judicial scrutiny hasn't stopped the original proponents of the law from continuing their fight against the national retailer. The legislature has said they'll rewrite the law and organized labor has said they'll do what they can to force the issue.
This battle between business and the anti-business groups in Maryland isn't over. It's barely begun.