A bill that would allow Sunday car sales in Howard County passed the state Senate on a 35-9 vote Monday night and has moved to a committee in the House of Delegates, where opponents are mounting their strongest lobbying efforts.
County lawmakers hailed the approval, which had been expected, saying it moves the county a step closer to winning passage of a measure intended to help lure used-car "super store" CarMax to the long-vacant site of the Freestate racetrack, just south of Savage.
CarMax, a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City stores, has said that it would build the 300-worker, 46.3 acre operation only if it is allowed to sell on Sundays. Only Montgomery and Prince George's counties now allow Sunday car sales.
"I think [the senators] recognized an economic benefit for our county, just like we would recognize an economic opportunity in their counties," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Howard County Republican who is sponsoring the bill. "I fully expect, and I have heard, there will be an all-out effort to defeat the bill [in the House] but the delegation is committed to moving the proposal forward."
The debate now shifts to the House Economic Matters Committee. Hearings had not been scheduled as of yesterday.
Opponents -- including 10 of Howard's 13 franchise car dealers and two state car dealers' associations -- say Sunday car sales will increase their expenses but provide minimal or no increases in sales.
To be competitive, the dealers believe, they would have to open on Sundays. That would further erode the quality of life for employees, who already work as much as 72 hours a week, the dealers say.
"I'm disappointed that the Howard County delegation decided what they did after hearing testimony of the dealers in Howard County," said Joseph P. Carroll, executive vice president of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association.
Excluding Montgomery and Prince George's counties, about 90 percent of the dealers in Mr. Carroll's organization oppose Sunday car sales, he said. In addition, officials at the Maryland Independent Auto Dealers Association have said their organization opposed Sunday car sales. Both groups vow to lobby hard in the House against the bill.
Car dealers in Anne Arundel County are among the most vocal opponents to making an exception for Howard. Senate lawmakers from Anne Arundel tried to have their district included in the bill, but failed.
"I just think there's going to be negative impact on our local dealers," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel Democrat who voted against the bill. "I think it will put them at a great competitive disadvantage."