The Maryland General Assembly will return to work in January and Montgomery County’s state representatives are preparing a number of bills pertaining to local issues to introduce in the 2016 session.
Among the proposals is the bill already generating a significant amount of controversy—Del. Bill Frick (D-Dist. 16) and five other representatives are sponsoring legislation to enable private distributors to sell alcohol in the county and compete directly with the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC).
A number of other bills have been posted on the county delegation’s website for consideration this year. The public will have an opportunity to comment on all the bills at a 7 p.m. Nov. 30 public hearing at the County Council office building in Rockville.
Here is some of the legislation proposed by the county’s delegation this year:
To allow private distributors to sell specific craft beer and wines in the county – MC 7-16
This bill is the result of a resolution passed over the summer by the Montgomery County Council to enable private distributors to sell “special order” products in the county. Currently the DLC controls the wholesale distribution of all alcohol in the county. Special order products include specific craft beers and fine wines that the DLC doesn’t sell in large volumes. The council passed the resolution after hearing about the DLC’s problems with delivery, price and selection concerning special order products. The bill would enable the DLC to classify which beer and wine products private distributors can sell. It also would permit the DLC to establish a surcharge or fee to replace the annual revenue the DLC may lose from special order sales.
To increase the number of early voting centers – MC 14-16
This bill would increase the number of early voting centers from eight to 10 in the county. The legislation follows controversy surrounding early voting centers after the Board of Elections voted to relocate centers in Burtonsville and Chevy Chase. The Republican majority board later reinstated the voting centers after Democrats vehemently protested the change. However, after the controversy was settled, County Executive Ike Leggett said in a letter he would support state legislation that would add an early voting site in Potomac.
To enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority – MC 27-16
More than a dozen county representatives signed on to support this bill, which would enable the county to set up a student loan refinancing authority. The authority could help local students finance the cost of higher education through loans it would offer, according to the bill. Because this is “enabling legislation,” the bill would not automatically set up the authority upon passage; county officials would have to establish the authority and appoint a five-member board to run it. If established, the authority could then raise funds by issuing bonds in order to provide college loans to students.
To allow the sale of alcohol near schools, churches or youth centers – MC 1-16
Earlier this year a group of people detailed a plan to open a brewery in downtown Bethesda. However the site the group was looking at was within 300 feet of a church, which meant it would be illegal to sell alcohol at the location under state law. At the time, the group said it would pursue a change in state law. This bill would make that change—somewhat. Sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14), the bill would allow the Montgomery County Board of License Commissioners to approve a license to sell alcohol near a church, school or youth center as long as the license is approved by four of the five board members. It also requires that a church, school or youth center be consulted beforehand and that such entities would not be negatively affected by the board granting the license. However, the bill would only authorize a business to sell alcohol to be consumed on site, which may be prohibitive for a brewery that is interested in selling beer to go in growlers, bottles or cans.
To allow the sale of alcohol near churches – MC 18-16
Sponsored by Del. Charles Barkley (D-Dist. 39), this bill takes a slightly different tack than Del. Luedtke’s bill. This bill would remove the words “places of worship” from the current law, which would enable businesses to sell alcohol near churches.
To remove distance requirements in “Bethesda Center” – MC 8-16
Like the two previous bills, this one sponsored by Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Dist. 16) has to do with minimum distance requirements for selling alcohol near schools, youth centers and places of worship; however this one only affects an area termed “Bethesda Center.” The bill would remove the distance requirements in the area bordered by East West Highway, Pearl Street, Montgomery Avenue and Waverly Street if the county liquor board approves a license in that area by unanimous vote. This bill in particular would seem to enable a brewery to open in downtown Bethesda because it would allow a brewer who holds a micro-brewery license to sell beer for on-site and off-premise consumption.
To permit beer and wine licenses for a sports stadium – MC 19-16
This bill would enable beer and wine sales to be sold at sports stadiums with a capacity of more than 2,000 people. The bill, sponsored by Del. Barkley, would create a license that costs $2,000 per year and that would permit a professional sports stadium to sell beer and wine 30 minutes before the start of the game and up until the final period of the game.
There isn’t a professional sports stadium that seats more than 2,000 people in the county, so it wasn’t clear what stadium would be affected by the bill’s passage. UPDATE: The bill will apply to the Germantown Soccerplex–which has a stadium that can seat 4,000 and also hosts a professional women's soccer team.
To set a special election to fill vacant school board seats – MC 2-16
This bill would set special primary and general elections to replace a Montgomery County Board of Education member who steps down at least a year before the end of his or her term. The election dates would be set by the county executive, and if an upcoming election is already scheduled for between 60 to 120 days from the board member stepping down, the special election would coincide with that previously scheduled election. Under current regulations, the school board is permitted to select a “qualified individual” if a board member steps down during his or her term.