Liquor-law flaw is focus of hearing


A hearing was scheduled today in Annapolis on a bill that attempts to correct a 26-year-old flaw in Baltimore's liquor-license regulations.

Proposed by the city's senators, the bill would give 120 or so tavern owners in Baltimore the option of continuing to operate as seven-day package-goods stores at reduced hours, or to convert their businesses to bars -- as the original law governing the sale of liquor in the city intended.

That law, enacted in 1965, is the root of the problem. It says just the opposite of what it was supposed to say.

Lawmakers intended to ensure that holders of a license known as BD-7 -- a seven-day tavern license -- operate as bars and not merely as package-goods stores.

But an "or" where an "and" should have been in the law ensured instead that holders of BD-7 licenses could legally close the bar section of their business and sell only liquor to go -- even on Sundays.

That flaw became a problem in recent years when more and more BD-7 license holders turned their bars into convenience stores, selling everything from liquor to candy bars to pantyhose seven days a week.

About 120 of the 625 to 630 owners of BD-7 licenses in the city fall into this category, said Aaron L. Stansbury, executive secretary of the city Liquor Board. The bill deals with those 120 owners.

The measure would give them a choice. They could begin operating their bars and remain open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week, or they could accept a new A-7 license and continue selling liquor, but only during the reduced hours of 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to midnight Sunday.

State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-City, said the bill addresses the concerns of residents who are fed up with drunks and loiterers outside these bars, as well as bar owners who bought their businesses thinking they could operate them as package-goods stores.

The bill would permit only these 120 or so tavern owners to select this kind of license.

No other A-7 licenses would be issued -- ever, said state Sen. American Joe Miedusiewski, D-City. "This way the problem doesn't get any better, but it doesn't get any worse."

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