An Anne Arundel County caterer wants permission to sell the alcoholic beverages that wash down the finger sandwiches and Swiss meatballs at her affairs.
But county liquor store owners say a bill before the General Assembly that would create a special caterer's liquor license would infringe on their businesses. And, without being tied to a fixed address, the license would be unenforceable.
Mary Cavey, who owns a Linthicum deli, traveled to Annapolis lastweek to support the bill introduced by state Sen. Michael J. Wagner,D-Ferndale.
The new class of liquor license is "necessary for caterers who do off-premise catering and dispense alcohol to stay withinthe framework of the law," Cavey said. "Right now, we're not workingwithin the framework of the law."
Wagner, a Glen Burnie caterer, said more directly: "Every caterer is breaking the law right now. We either correct it so they are not breaking the law or say, 'We know what they are doing, and we just don't care.' "
The county's 13-member House delegation has rejected the idea the last two years. This year, the bill started in the Senate and won unanimous approval yesterday from the county's five senators and the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Cavey hopes the bill will make it the rest of the way with the support of the Maryland Restaurant Association.
"A legitimate caterer who serves food at an event should be able to serve the liquor as well,"said Franklin Goldstein, a lobbyist for the association. "It's only fair. Most people don't want the headache and want the caterer to do everything anyway."
County law prohibits anyone but a licensed package goods store, restaurant or tavernowner from purchasing liquor wholesale, transporting it and reselling it at a profit.
"(Caterers) want to make a profit on that booze -- that's what this bill is all about," said Jay Schwartz, a lawyer representing the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association. "They want the ability to buy it cheap and sell it high."
The new license, which wouldcost $500, would allow a caterer with a permanent health department-approved kitchen to purchase alcohol wholesale and serve it atoff-site events. Six other Maryland counties already issue a caterer's liquor license.
Allowing Anne Arundel County caterers to sell alcohol would undercut package goods stores and create new avenues forabuse, said Cliff Phelps, vice president of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association.
"Obviously, our association is veryperturbed about it," he said.
Because caterers could serve alcohol in private homes and halls around the county, the Liquor Board would be unable to enforce laws such as the prohibition of sales to minors, said Phelps, who operates a Pasadena packagegoods stores.
"If you have an approved kitchen, you could go anywhere to sell the liquor," Schwartz said. "The Liquor Board doesn't know where they are going. It's unenforceable."
Tom Riggin, chairman of the county Liquor Board, endorsed the bill last year but admitted, "Wecan't go and make sure they aren't serving minors." The new license would give the board authority to regulate caterers, he said.
"You can keep control of what the caterer does without going to every party he throws," Goldstein said. "If you get a complaint about the caterer, you could go in and inspect. Then, at least, they would licensed and the board could take their license away."