The state Senate approved legislation Thursday that could strip the governor of the authority to appoint members to Baltimore's liquor board.
The bill would require the mayor and Baltimore City Council to select the board's commissioners if Gov. Larry Hogan doesn't appoint new members by the end of the General Assembly session April 11.
Members of the board — who serve two-year terms and are responsible for enforcing laws and regulations at liquor stores, bars and restaurants across the city — have been selected in Annapolis since the 1930s. The legislation being considered by the General Assembly would shift that power to Baltimore through 2018.
The Senate refused last week to confirm commissioners who were nominated by Hogan and have served since last summer. The Republican governor has said he will not submit new names for lawmakers' consideration, leaving the long-troubled board unsettled.
It is unclear how the House of Delegates will react to the legislation. Baltimore lawmakers in that chamber planned to review the proposal at a meeting Friday morning in Annapolis, according to Del. Curt Anderson, a city Democrat.
If the House approves it, the liquor board could be vacant during a crucial time for license renewals.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill, said she pushed it forward because Hogan has refused to withdraw his original nominees, despite city senators' opinion that they have made bad decisions that tilt in favor of liquor license holders at the expense of communities.
"That's his prerogative," Conway said. "He's the governor."
But some city residents say the liquor board isn't tough enough on problem bars, and that the board's decisions often favor liquor establishments over neighborhood residents.
They've pointed to a decision to allow the Stadium Lounge in Waverly to reopen last summer after serving 71 days of a six-month suspension handed down by the previous liquor board. Stadium Lounge was suspended for having illegal slot machines.
If Conway's bill is passed by the House, Hogan would be required to nominate new liquor board members within 15 days. If he fails to do so, the power to appoint members would go to the mayor and City Council.
The Senate voted 43-2 to approve the bill.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller voted for it, but called it a "bad bill." He said he wished it weren't necessary.
Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey, from the Eastern Shore, said Hogan's team did not aggressively court Republican senators to vote "no" on the bill.
Absent guidance from the governor, most Republicans treated the bill as a matter of local courtesy, deferring to the wishes of the senators from Baltimore.
Becky Witt, an attorney with the Community Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks liquor board issues, said she didn't know whether the city's leaders would do a better job in selecting liquor board members than the governor.
The current members' terms will end once they are voted down by the Senate, or when the General Assembly adjourns at midnight April 11. If new members are not appointed, Witt said, the city will not have a functioning liquor board.
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April is a crucial month for the liquor board, Witt said, because liquor licenses are renewed on May 1 each year. Residents and community groups are protesting the renewal of several liquor licenses, and public hearings are usually held in April so the board can make decisions before May 1.
If there are no liquor board members available to hold hearings and make decisions on the contested renewals, Witt said, some bars and restaurants will not be able to sell alcohol beginning May 1.
"The everyday business of the board will come to a stop if there's no replacements," Witt said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.