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Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport would be forced to reopen its main concession contract next year under an unusual bill backed by Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly.

The legislation, sponsored by more than 50 Democrats between the House and Senate, is a rare attempt to intervene in the state's procurement process. It is, in part, a reflection of Democrats' dissatisfaction with labor relations at the airport.

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AirMall Maryland and its predecessor company have held the contract to manage stores and restaurants at BWI since 2004. Leaders of a union that has been trying to organize workers there, Unite Here Local 7, say AirMall is underperforming its peers at larger airports.

Proponents of the legislation, who held a news conference Tuesday in Annapolis, said the intention is to foster competition for the lucrative airport contract.

"Competition is good for the taxpayer," said Del. Kumar P. Barve, the bill's lead sponsor in the House of Delegates. "It's good for the public that uses the airport."

Barve, a Montgomery County lawmaker and chairman of the Environment and Transportation Committee, is among the more than 40 House Democrats sponsoring the bill.

State Sen. Roger Manno said BWI could attract $31 million in capital investment if it opens the contract for bidding in 2017. Manno, a Montgomery Democrat, is one of a dozen Democrats co-sponsoring the measure in the Senate.

AirMall collects rent from the restaurants and stores and shares its revenue with the airport. The concession contract was awarded to BAA USA Inc. in 2004 for a 12-year term. Under the agreement, the company, which later became AirMall Maryland, was expected to spend $12 million to modernize the facilities.

In 2006, during the final weeks of Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration, the Board of Public Works approved extending the contract to 2022 in return for an additional $7.2 million in improvements. The extension included a clause allowing the state to terminate the arrangement in 2017, an interpretation that AirMall disputes.

Proponents want the state to exercise that clause, but BWI CEO Ricky D. Smith Sr. told a Senate budget oversight committee recently that he has no intention of reopening the contract before 2022.

"I know the organization very well, and I think they do very good work," he told senators.

Smith said BWI, under the prompting of then-Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, sought ideas from potential competitors to AirMall in 2014 but did not find any of them superior.

"None of the responses gave us a compelling reason for moving to terminate the contract early," Smith said.

He said the state has no intention of extending the contract beyond 2022.

Brett Kelly, vice president of AirMall Maryland, said he could not comment directly on the bill but called it "troublesome" that the legislature would seek to require a contract's termination.

"By any objective measure, this program has performed beautifully," he said.

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Kelly said sales per departing passenger have increased from an average of $5.47 when it took over to $10.50.

Matthew A. Clark, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, said the governor's office will review the legislation and "provide a point of view on this bill if it moves closer" to passage.

Clark said the concession program has had "great success" in recent years. He said that since AirMall took over, sales have risen by 95 percent, to $116.2 million, while employment by companies operating concessions at BWI has grown by 900. About 1,400 Marylanders work at airport businesses, he said.

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