Finally, some good news to report on the Wal-Mart front. Last week, Maryland became the first state to require that Wal-Mart increase the amount of money it spends on employee health care. Sure, Maryland is one of the smallest states, and only one Wal-Mart store currently has enough employees to fall under the new bill's jurisdiction. But this bill is a good start—and could shame the rest of the nation into action. There are 29 states considering similar bills.
Here's the details : The new bill requires private companies operating in Maryland with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of payroll on health benefits, or make an equal contribution to the state's low-income insurance program. Currently, Wal-Mart is the only large company in Maryland that doesn't meet these qualifications.
Even more interesting is the fact that Maryland lawmakers overrode a veto from Rep. Gov. Robert Ehrlich to pass the bill. The Senate's vote passed the veto-squashing 60 percent with one vote to spare. The same day, the Senate also overrode a veto on raising the minimum wage by $1.
The potential downside to this bill (and there is one, despite how happy I am to see Wal-Mart being forced to face the music) is that is does nothing to help low-wage workers at smaller companies, of which there are many more. And the folks at The Plank  make the very good point that low-wage customers (people who shop at Wal-Mart out of necessity, for whom saving 37 cents on canned soup really makes a difference) may end up feeling the squeeze through higher prices. Still, we've got to start somewhere if the ultimate goal is providing all Americans with affordable health care. Holding mammoth companies accountable makes financial—not to mention ethical—sense.
The advocacy group Wakeup Wal-Mart  is aiming to bring the Maryland's success to the other states, too. Their campaign "Fair Share Health Care," is looking for "citizen co-sponsors" to help lobby state legislatures to introduce and pass similar bills. Find out more here.