The General Assembly gave final approval Wednesday to legislation restructuring the troubled Baltimore liquor board and giving City Hall more control.
The unanimous vote by the state Senate sends the measure to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.
"We are generally pleased with this positive step toward more transparency of the Baltimore liquor board," said Gov. Martin O'Malley's spokeswoman, Nina Smith.
The legislation was proposed after a state audit found widespread inefficiency, poor record-keeping and inconsistent enforcement at the agency. The measure requires the liquor board to post online records of its actions, including fines; increases the city's budget oversight powers; and imposes stricter ethics requirements on board members and employees.
Supporters called the bill the most sweeping reform of the liquor board in decades. Critics complained that it did not go far enough because it retains the city Senate delegation's pivotal role in the choice of liquor board members.
"I'm thrilled to see that it passed," said state Sen. Bill Ferguson, one of the bill's authors. "It's a great statement for the city's future. There will be enhanced transparency and accountability."
The legislation includes an amendment inserted by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore Democrat, prohibiting the issuance of new liquor licenses or the transfer of existing ones in the Belvedere Square area. However, before final passage, the Senate accepted a House amendment delaying the effective date of that provision until July 2015, giving the legislature an opportunity to re-examine the matter next year.
Del. Charles Barkley, who introduced the delay on the floor, said both chambers agreed that it would be better to give businesses more time to adjust to the moratorium.
"Many of them were in the process of applying for licenses. It was kind of like cutting them off midstream," said Barkley, a Democrat from Montgomery County and chairman of a subcommittee that oversees liquor issues. The one-year delay also provides critics of the ban time to lobby to reverse it, he said.
Del. Jon Cardin, who advocated for a delay, said a number of businesses and community members complained to him that the moratorium was pushed through without enough public comment. "My interest is in transparency," said Cardin, a Baltimore County Democrat.
Conway has said she sought the amendment on behalf of the Belvedere Improvement Association, which is concerned about drinking in the area.
Catherine Evans, past president of the group, said there are more than 10 liquor licenses within two blocks.
"That's a real saturation. Some of them are absolutely not problematic at all," she said. "Some are extremely problematic. Senator Conway has been a huge supporter and friend of our neighborhood. She really understands what goes on here."
But some business owners said they were caught unaware by Conway's amendment.
Ben Frederick III, who owns property in the area, said the ban could prevent him from bringing an upscale restaurant to the neighborhood.
"It impacts use quite negatively," he said. "It very much limits our ability to continue the growth of the Belvedere Square area. The area is definitely on the upswing. We're getting higher-class restaurants and operators. We don't want to have limits on our ability to bring in higher-quality restaurants."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she hasn't reviewed Conway's amendment, but supports the bill.
"This legislation is a great step forward that will help to make the board operate more transparently and efficiently," said Kevin Harris, her spokesman. "These are all critical reforms that will provide the city and board with the right tools to improve the board's operations and responsiveness to taxpayers and the business community."
Baltimore Sun reporters Michael Dresser and Erin Cox contributed to this article.