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Editorial: BYOB bill has merit, but paints with too broad a brush

A bill introduced in the County Council would open a new arena for regulation of alcoholic beverages in Baltimore County — BYOB businesses.

The bill, while well-intentioned, may be more law than is necessary to solve the problems it is designed for.

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The bill sponsored by Councilmen Todd Huff, David Marks and Ken Oliver would require that establishments where patrons may "bring your own bottle" take out a license, check identification if alcohol is consumed and close by 2 a.m. A violation could result in a fine of up to $500.

Huff said he introduced the bill in response to "multiple complaints" about hookah lounges.

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These unregulated establishments, where customers puff on flavored tobacco, allegedly become loud into the early morning hours and do not enforce laws on underage drinking.

Passage of the bill would clear the way to a crackdown on bad behavior in these smoke-filled rooms, Huff said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that not all hookah lounges are the targets of complaint and some are "very strict" about maintaining propriety.

While establishing control over what goes on in hookah lounges, the bill would also affect many of the county's small restaurants that don't have a liquor license, and that permit patrons to bring their own alcoholic beverage, like a bottle of wine.

Huff noted that his intent is not to encumber such restaurateurs, so he wants to keep the cost of the license "minimal" — say, $25 to $50 annually.

Some questions arise.

Apart from hookah dens, how widespread is the problem of BYOB abuse in the county? Are there other establishments besides restaurants and hookah bars that have a BYOB policy? If so, would they be subject to this new license as well?

More information is needed before we would support such broad-brush legislation whose apparent target is a minuscule number of commercial enterprises.

By proposing the bill, Huff and his co-sponsors have opened discussion on dealing with a problem.

That's a good thing. We hope more information is gathered, and that that information points to a refined bill — or a new bill — that exerts regulatory power precisely where it is needed: hookah lounges, and not the dozens of other BYOB businesses that do not need regulation.

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