A bill that would allow 120 to 150 liquor stores in Baltimore to continue selling beer and liquor to go on Sundays has been approved by the city's senators.
Approved 7-2 in a recent vote, the bill deals with a 26-year-old flaw in Baltimore's liquor license regulations -- a flaw that actually permits taverns to operate as seven-day package-goods stores instead of prohibiting them, as lawmakers had intended.
The flaw in the law -- an "or" where an "and" should have been -- became a problem in recent years when more and more holders of BD-7 (seven-day tavern) licenses closed the bar sections of their businesses but continued selling liquor over the counter seven days a week.
Aaron L. Stansbury, executive secretary of the city Liquor Board, said 120 to 150 of the city's 630 BD-7 license-holders fall into this category. The bill affects only those 120 to 150 businesses.
It would give them the option of accepting a new A-7 license and continuing to operate as seven-day package-goods stores at reduced hours (9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday, 1 p.m. to midnight Sunday), or to retain their BD-7 license, convert their business to a bar and operate during regular bar hours (6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week).
The bill would permit only the 120 to 150 tavern owners to select an A-7 license. No other A-7 licenses would ever be issued, said two of the senators who supported the bill, John A. Pica Jr. and American Joe Miedusiewski
The bill now goes to the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, which is to hold a hearing March 14. If the committee approves the bill, it would be considered by the entire Senate.
Barbara Ferguson, vice president of the Lafayette Square-Harlem Park Community Association, said that many of the 120 to 150 bars are in her part of West Baltimore.
"I wish you could see the number of liquor outlets we have in a small area," she said. "We're being killed by this stuff."
Ferguson said the senators who voted in favor of the bill "are immoral and without conscience." They should be working instead to cut off the flow of liquor in the city, especially on Sundays, she said.
"There's never a break, never a letup," she said. "You need a day of rest."
Sen. Ralph M. Hughes, D-City, voted against the bill for that reason, saying, "In effect, you end up with package-goods stores open seven days a week, when package-goods stores are supposed to be open six days a week."
He said he would rather see legislation requiring the 120 to 150 businesses to operate as traditional bars or to close on Sundays. "The problem is the community does not want package-goods stores open on Sunday," he said.
Senators Pica and Miedusiewski said their hands were tied in trying to deal with taverns operating as convenience and package-goods stores. First, they said, an assistant attorney general issued an opinion in December saying that BD-7 businesses could operate as package-goods stores -- based on the current law, which was written in 1965.
Second, the senators said, they did not want to put anybody out of business by suddenly changing the accepted rules of the game. Miedusiewski said many of the license-holders bought their businesses with the understanding that they could legally operate them as package-goods stores.
Both senators stressed that they do not favor additional liquor sales on Sunday. Pica said the bill was clearly a compromise, but one weighted in favor of the communities and not the business owners.
The communities win at least a partial victory, he said, because the owners who select an A-7 license would be open 39 fewer hours a week. They would not open during the week until children had gone to school, and on Sundays until families had gotten home from church.