County Executive Roger Hayden has named an 11-member panel to examine the way Baltimore County grants liquor licenses. Such a panel is long overdue. Political compromises in state laws and county rules have created a regulatory morass.
The insufficiency of the county's current liquor system was underscored when a special law had to be passed in Annapolis to secure enough licenses for five planned restaurants at Towson Commons. Without such a law, licenses would have been available for only two restaurants at that $70 million retail and entertainment complex.
While the legislature resolved this particular problem, it did nothing to address the basic questions: should surplus licenses be allowed to be transferred from one of the county's 15 election districts to another according to need? If so, under what conditions? Currently, such transfers are not permitted without the General Assembly's approval, even if a license becomes available due to bankruptcy or other types of forced or voluntary closure.
In making the Towson Commons legislation palatable for various interest groups, Baltimore County's delegation in Annapolis ruled that the three restaurants buying licenses from outside their election district must stop serving liquor at 12:30 a.m., while their two competitors acquiring licenses from within the district could sell alcohol until 1:30 a.m. That kind of rank favoritism is incomprehensible. Not only does it make things confusing to patrons but it also makes policing of abuses difficult.
These are just a few of the problems the new committee expectto study under the leadership of William R. Snyder, the county's liquor board chairman. Another important issue: determining the best way to deal with restaurant chains that are becoming more prevalent in a business once dominated by families. Tellingly, the committee's members include a legislative draftsman from Annapolis because any real reform of the county's alcohol regulations can be done only with the approval of the General Assembly.
We urge the Snyder committee to strive for a flexible bustraight-forward liquor licensing system that is not prone to corruption. That goal can best be achieved if the proliferation of licenses with different operating conditions is replaced by a simplified, more equitable system.