The Baltimore City Council granted preliminary approval Monday to a bill that would require every restaurant and carryout in the city to post its health rating based on a city review of its cleanliness.
The council voted 10-5 to approve the measure, which would also require the Health Department to post a searchable online database of restaurant inspections. The legislation applies to most places were food is prepared and sold, including grocery stores and food trucks.
The bill had languished in committee for more than two years due in part to some members' frequent absence from committee meetings. But City Councilman Brandon Scott, the bill's lead sponsor, took the rare step Monday of petitioning the bill out of committee — a move authorized by a narrow 8-6 vote of the full council.
Scott has argued that city residents have a right to know before they eat whether an establishment has the highest standards of cleanliness, citing similar efforts in New York, San Francisco and Charlotte, N.C.
"It's a huge day for the citizens of the Baltimore, especially around the issues of health and transparency," Scott said.
He has also chided fellow council members for not showing up for committee votes.
"We couldn't get a straight vote on it in committee," Scott said. "This bill was introduced in 2012 and a majority of the council was behind it. I didn't want to do it this way, but to keep putting it off for any and every excuse was not acceptable to me."
City Councilman Robert Curran, the chairman of the health committee, supported the move to draft the bill to the full council.
"It's the first time it's been done in my 20 years down here," Curran said. "It deserved the vote of the full council. We worked too long and hard on this. It gives folks the opportunity to understand which restaurants aren't as diligent [about] the health code as others."
Melvin R. Thompson, the lobbyist for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said, "We are disappointed that the committee voting process was bypassed to bring this bill before the full council. We remain concerned that passage of this legislation will create a system with the potential to portray many well-managed businesses as being less than perfect without providing any opportunity for timely recourse."
Among those voting against the measure was City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. His spokesman, Lester Davis, said Young was not opposed to the merits of the bill but was concerned about circumventing the committee system.
"It's a mechanism that should only be used in rare or extreme instances," Davis said. "The council president thought there were still avenues Councilman Scott could have pursued in committee."
City Councilwoman Helen Holton voted against the measure because she said she believed the grading system — which was amended from grades of "A," "B" and "C" to a rating system of "excellent," "good" or "fair" — should be phased in.
The ratings must be posted in a "conspicuous location visible to the public," according to the bill.
"I don't want to see the bill killed," Holton said, "but I don't want it come out of committee without more work."
Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor supports the proposal and will sign it into law if passed. The bill needs final approval from the full council later this month.