Expect the battle over liquor licenses and a disposable bag fee in Prince George’s County to be revived in the next General Assembly session, legislators said.
More than 30 bills are being considered by the county House delegation, members said at their annual briefing to the public Dec. 1 at Prince George’s Community College.
The issues that drew the most public comment and contention were bills resurrecting causes that died in previous sessions — a measure that would bypass the state rule banning alcohol at grocery stores and allow supermarkets in College Park to carry alcoholic beverages and a measure that would levy a fee on businesses that give out disposable bags.
In general, state law prohibits supermarkets from selling alcohol, but some grocery stores such as three in the county do permit alcohol.
More than a dozen people, most of whom were liquor store owners, argued that allowing alcohol sales at supermarkets would kill their business. A similar effort that would have allowed grocery stores in Bowie to carry alcohol was proposed in the 2012 session however, delegations records show that an 18 member majority of the delegation voted to abandon that effort.
The state’s existing policy that largely prevents stores from both selling groceries and alcohol has protected small businesses from being overrun by large chain stores, said Barry Goldstein, owner of Kenilworth Liquors in Riverdale.
“We have small stores. We employ 15 to 20 people,” he said. “[Passing the bill] would be detrimental to the owners of small businesses and their employees.”
Amrish Vyas, a spokesman for the Asian American Retailer Association, which represented some of the liquor store owners in attendance, said store owners were worried that allowing the measure would lead to a litany of other areas asking for similar exceptions.
“Everybody is going to come in with a ‘Me too,’” said the Laurel resident.
Len Lucchi, a lobbyist for the city of Bowie, spoke in support of the measure and added that there are multiple sites in Bowie that would like similar exemptions.
“The government shouldn’t be in the position of picking winners and losers,” he said.
Another measure making a return to the delegation’s docket after being defeated last year was a bill that would allow the County Council to set and levy a fee on businesses that give out disposable plastic bags. The bill backed by Del. Barbara Frush (D-Dist.21) of Beltsville and state Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park would help reduce trash and encourage residents to use reusable bags, Frush said.
“There are some really good alternatives to plastic bags,” said Frush, who pointed to reusable bags she brought with her.
Critics said the measure was a needless tax that would burden residents on fixed incomes.
“This proposal, once it goes to the County Council and they attach the fees to it, it’s going to become ridiculous,” said Petey Green, a Clinton resident who came to speak against the bill. “You could walk away [from a grocery store] with a bill of a $1.25 in fees.”
County Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said the effort would help cut down the amount of trash in the area and would follow similar efforts by neighboring jurisdictions such as Montgomery County and Washington, D.C.
“The use of disposable bags will drop precipitously,” she said.
The opinions will be valuable in the next session that begins Jan. 9, said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Dist. 47) of Cheverly, who as of Dec. 1 took over leadership of the county’s House delegation.
“Every committee will have to take those comments and thoughts into consideration when they decide to vote,” she said. “We’ll give a lot of serious consideration to what people think.”