Maryland Drops Effort to Charge Wal-Mart for Health Costs

BENTONVILLE, Ark. -- Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. here is no longer the target of an initiative in the state of Maryland to charge large retailers a fine unless they provide better health benefits to employees.

Attorney General Douglas Gansler said yesterday that Maryland would not appeal a second federal ruling rejecting the state's controversial law.

The way Maryland's law was written, only Wal-Mart would have been affected. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a trade group based in Arlington, Va., argued that the company was unfairly singled out in violation of federal laws.

In a statement Monday, Gansler said the matter was dropped because an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was unlikely to succeed.

Two federal judges ruled that the state law was pre-empted by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA.

The measure was first passed in 2005, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich. In early 2006, the Democratic legislature passed the bill into law over Ehrlich's veto, but the law was immediately challenged by the Retail Industry Leaders Association. Most recently, a federal appeals court in Virginia rejected Maryland's law in January.

Wal-Mart has about 16,000 employees in Maryland, according to published reports.
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