Just hours after the Maryland General Assembly wrapped up its 2015 session, Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday signed 141 bills passed by the legislature this year—including 10 so-called “local” bills put forth by Montgomery County’s House delegation.
The majority of these bills—which do not apply in other jurisdictions around the state—were designed to increase consumer options, at least incrementally, in the purchase of alcoholic beverages. Among the Montgomery County legislation signed by Hogan:
House Bill 88: Spearheaded by Del. Ariana Kelly, D-Bethesda, the legislation allows use of refillable containers—ranging in size from 17 to 34 ounces— in the sale of wine for off-premise consumption. The new law is aimed at enabling Bethesda-based Bradley Food & Beverage, which already sells beer for refillable “growlers,” to expand its refill business to include wine.
House Bill 89: This legislation creates a new classification of alcoholic beverage license in the county—designated in bureaucratic-speak as BD-BWL—opening the way for restaurants that also include tasting rooms and gift stores where beer and wine can be purchased for off-premise consumption. Cooper’s Hawk, an Illinois-based restaurant firm that operates its own winery, recently opened a location in Virginia and hopes to expand into Maryland. “I think they’re planning that Montgomery County will be the next location where they open a restaurant,” said Del. Charles Barkley, D-Germantown, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Economic Matters Committee’s alcoholic beverages subcommittee.
House Bill 92: If you’re a charitable organization and want to conduct a wine auction to raise funds, you can obtain a one-day state permit to do so in 23 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. As of July 1, you will be able to do so in Montgomery County as well. “As we went through the law, [we found] wine auction permits are actually allowed in every jurisdiction in the state except Montgomery County,” Barkley said. “So we went ahead and just repealed that part.”
House Bill 202: The Urban Winery is renovating space in Silver Spring’s Fenton Village neighborhood for wine-making, with plans to include a tasting room and wine classes. This new law grants the enterprise a so-called Class D license, allowing the sale of beer and light wine for on-premise or carry-out consumption—so long as its winery produces no more than 20,000 gallons annually. Barkley said the state’s alcoholic beverage industry is generally resistant to granting Class D licenses to facilities involved in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages. “So that’s why we put a limit on it—to make sure it’s a small thing we’re talking about,” he said of the production restriction. The bill was sought by Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Takoma Park, and Dels. Sheila Hixson, David Moon and Will Smith, all Democrats representing Silver Spring.
House Bill 316: Also sought by Raskin, Hixson, Moon and Smith, this legislation is intended to update the alcoholic beverage licensing structure in Takoma Park; it gets rid of a category of liquor licenses that date back to when the municipality was divided between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties more than two decades ago. The effect of these changes is likely to make carry-out sale of alcoholic beverages easier in Takoma Park, where long-time limits on such purchases is a legacy of the city’s Seventh-day Adventist roots.
Awaiting Hogan’s signature at future bill-signing ceremonies—now scheduled for April 28 and May 12— is another Montgomery County bill dealing with alcoholic beverage sales. This measure, House Bill 90, was actually two years in the making, and proved to be more controversial than the other local bills signed Tuesday.
Aimed at attracting additional investment into the county’s restaurant scene, the legislation grew out of the recommendations of the county’s 2013 Nighttime Economy Task Force. In its original form, introduced in 2014 by then-Del. Tom Hucker, D-Silver Spring, the legislation would have eased restrictions requiring that liquor licenses sought by the prospective owner of a Montgomery County restaurant bear the name of a county resident (either an owner or restaurant manager). That proposal sought to allow residents of other Maryland jurisdictions as well as those living in the District of Columbia or northern Virginia to obtain such licenses.
But Hucker’s bill ran into both constitutional and political issues last year, and, after his election to the County Council in November, Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Kensington, took the lead on the issue. Madaleno redrafted the bill to allow holders of county liquor licenses to be from not just elsewhere in Maryland but anywhere in the United States, as long as their application to operate here was approved by a supermajority of the county’s Board of License Commissioners.
However, in a sign that the General Assembly remains resistant to changes in the state’s liquor control regimen—despite a significant turnover of membership in last year’s elections— Madaleno and other supporters of the legislation in the county delegation got only a portion of what they wanted. The House Economic Matters Committee amended the bill to allow residents of other jurisdictions in Maryland to hold Montgomery County liquor licenses, but declined to allow the same for residents of other states. This follows a precedent already in place in several other Maryland counties.
“So it’s expanded at least a little bit to allow state residents,” Barkley observed. “Originally, they talked about including Northern Virginia and D.C., but a lot of folks didn’t like that idea. You want to be able to have somebody on site, a resident of the state or Montgomery County, who you can really hold responsible.”
Madaleno today said the compromise legislation passed by the General Assembly “would definitely address the issue that brought the situation to the attention of the delegation”—the difficulties faced by backers of noted chef Bryan Voltaggio in obtaining a Montgomery County liquor license. “It forced them into the District of Columbia—they just moved right over Western Avenue, into the Chevy Chase Pavilion, where they have opened three different restaurants,” Madaleno said. “That could all be happening in Bethesda or Friendship Heights.”
Barkley expressed confidence that the licensing bill will be signed into law by Hogan, and said he knew of no objections to it by the governor’s office—even though the legislation was the only Montgomery County-related alcoholic beverage bill passed this year that was not signed Tuesday by Hogan.
There were a couple of Montgomery County bills that Hogan did sign Tuesday that don’t relate to alcoholic beverage control.
House Bill 106 would permit Montgomery County to adopt an anti-littering ordinance and to impose criminal and civil penalties similar to those now in state law.
And then there’s the “pinball” bill.
Pushed by Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Burtonsville, as part of an effort to get rid of obsolete laws still on the books, House Bill 82 repeals a Montgomery County law against having “more than two free-play pinball machines that are not in locked storage and are available for public use from being kept on the same floor of a building.”
The 1963 law, which well predates the Xbox era, was presumably an effort to keep the baby boomer generation from wiling away its afternoons playing pinball. Today, it’s hard to find such machines outsides of baby boomers’ basement recreation rooms.
For a full list of Montgomery County bills proposed and passed this year: