Proposed bill could grade Prince George’s County restaurants -- Gazette.Net


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School may soon be in session for Prince George’s County businesses as proposed legislation would require them to receive and display their grade on health and cleanliness standards.

Del. Kriselda Valderrama (D-Dist. 26) of Fort Washington plans to introduce a bill in January — during the start of the General Assembly’s 2013 legislative session — that would require county restaurants to receive and prominently display a letter grade based on the cleanliness of the facility. The measure mirrors similar legislation passed in New York City in 2010 that requires restaurants to display how well they did on health inspections.

Valderrama proposed a similar statewide grading requirement in 2007, but the measure was defeated in the health and government operation committee, she said.

“The argument was that the current system seems to be working fine and it seems confusing to consumers that there are different levels of compliance,” Valderrama said.

Valderrama’s proposal would create the A grade as the highest standard of performance and would leave the standard for other levels up to the county government to decide, according to the draft legislation.

Valderrama first brought up the issue during her freshman year as a delegate and with greater experience and a different composition in the General Assembly, she said she is more optimistic about both bills chances.

“I'm not trying to appear anti-business," she said. “It's wanting to do better by our places.”

Landover resident Sherry Strother spoke in support of the measure at a Dec. 1 forum held at the Prince George’s Community College in Largo.

“I think this is a wonderful idea,” she said. “Many times here in the county, there are concerns about the cleanliness of various businesses.”

Prince George’s County Health Department has 11 fulltime health inspectors responsible for inspecting about 2,500 restaurants. Last year, the county conducted more than 6,000 inspections, according to health department records. An analysis by the health department found the grading system would require the hiring of nine additional health officers in order to conduct all the necessary inspections and to be able to re-inspect restaurants that dispute their grading, said Gordon Barrow, a special assistant to the county health officer.

Implementing the bill would cost roughly $600,000 to pay for additional inspections and signage, according to county health department records.

Maryland, Virginia or Washington, D.C., don’t give restaurants letter grades or require them to display inspection results, said Barrow, who has been with the county’s health department for 10 years.

“They haven't worked out the guidelines of how this would unfold, but if you look at how it’s done in New York City there is a number of inspections and re-inspections that are required,” Barrow said. “I know it will require much more intense inspections.”

Local business chambers such as the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce and the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce have not formally taken positions on the measure.

“Before doing something like this, I think that it’s extremely important that businesses get an opportunity to weigh in on this,” said David Harrington, president of the PGCC whose wife, Cheryl Harrington, owns a bakery in Hyattsville. “I'm not necessarily against any public notification, but I think this has to be fully looked at so that businesses understand the implications of the bill. “

amccombs@gazette.net