On Liquor Day, legislators to consider reform

Amanda Yeager
Contact Reporterayeager@capgaznews.com

Monday marks an annual tradition for the General Assembly: It's "Liquor Day," when dozens of bills proposing to change the state's hodgepodge of liquor laws are up for a hearing.

Of the 62 bills on the agenda for the House's Economic Matters committee, many are proposals to broaden local liquor license regulations. In St. Mary's County, for example, lawmakers are asking for permission to award liquor licenses to some beauty salons and art galleries, while Montgomery County wants an extra hour for liquor sales on Mondays that are federal holidays.

Anne Arundel County has a couple of local bills in this vein.

Senate Bill 897, sponsored by Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, would increase the number of Class H licenses (which allow restaurants to serve alcohol to be consumed on-site) that the county's Board of License Commissioners can issue from two to five. Senate Bill 1088, also sponsored by Astle, would increase the cost of a Class B license, which allows restaurants to sell alcohol to be consumed on premises and for carryout.

Another theme this year, both locally and statewide, is liquor board reform.

Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed legislation that would make liquor board commissioners from some jurisdictions subject to state ethics requirements; would require state senators to submit liquor board appointments to the governor four months before a seat becomes vacant; and would mandate criminal background checks for all liquor board appointees.

The stricter regulations would apply in 11 different counties, including Anne Arundel.

Hogan proposed the changes last month as part of a package of transparency-focused measures that he said would help to "(clean) up the mess of Annapolis and (restore) integrity to our state capital." He accused liquor board appointments of being one of the last bastions of political patronage in the state.

Del. Charles Barkley, a Montgomery County Democrat, has introduced a bill requiring liquor boards to undergo state performance audits at least once every six years.

And locally, Sen. Bryan Simonaire and Del. Meagan Simonaire, Republicans from Pasadena, are sponsoring a bill to grow the Anne Arundel liquor board from three to five members, in what they say is an effort to increase the accountability of the board.

A separate bill, sponsored by Astle, attempts to rein in rising liquor board expenditures on contractual legal fees by tripling the salary of the board's in-house attorney, from $20,000 to $60,000, and creating a $30,000 limit on contract attorney costs.

Other measures up for a hearing Monday would affect alcohol regulations statewide. Those include:

•House Bill 71, which would allow brewery owners to sell any kind of food they choose to accompany their beers, rather than having to choose from a pre-set list.

•House Bill 296, which would allow warehouse shopping clubs located within 10 miles of the state border to apply for a license to sell beer and wine in bulk.

•House Bill 380, which would make drinking in public a civil, rather than criminal, offense.

The Senate's Education, Health and Environmental Affairs commitee will hear liquor bills later in the week, on Friday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
30°