Congress has frozen the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour for nine years, but state legislatures have taken action to boost that minimum locally. On Jan. 17, Maryland became the 18th state to do so when the Legislature overrode GOP Gov. Robert Erlich’s veto of a bill setting the floor on wages at $6.15 an hour. The same day, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announced in his ‘State of the State’ address that he proposes the Legislature raise the state’s rate to $7.50 an hour over three years.

“I think it will continue to be a hot issue for the states in 2006,” said Jeanne Mejeur, who tracks minimum wage issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures. She predicts that as many as 30 states will consider minimum wage increases this year.

Campaigns to increase wages for low-wage workers are already underway in Nevada, Arkansas, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Arizona, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.