House panel OKs bill to protect wholesalers Disputed measure faces fight on floor

March 13, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- A controversial bill to give Maryland wholesalers some economic protection against the manufacturers who supply them made it out of a House committee yesterday.

But the heated debate preceding the 13-9 vote by the House Economic Matters Committee suggests that the heavily amended bill faces a fight in the full House next week.

Sponsored at the behest of the Department of Economic and Employment Development, the bill sets requirements for manufacturers who want to end their relationships early with some wholesale distributors.

Manufacturers would have to give 60 days' notice of termination before the end of the contract. Distributors would have those 60 days to solve problems that led to the termination.

The bill also would require manufacturers that have canceled contracts to buy back inventory they had sold the distributors.

Since a public hearing last month, the bill has drawn statewide attention and lobbyists by the score.

More than a dozen manufacturers and manufacturing groups sponsored a full-page ad in The Sun Tuesday stating that the bill would mean "consumers will pay higher prices, businesses will fail, workers will lose their jobs."

"This [ad] is nothing but pure obfuscation," DEED Secretary Mark L. Wasserman told the panel Wednesday. Manufacturers hold an advantage over distributors and can devastate a company by leaving a relationship without notice, he said.

The bill was made more palatable to the opposition by extensive amendments, including one that exempted a variety of industries.

The choice of which distributors to protect and which to exempt fueled widespread complaints that the legislation was primarily meant to benefit one person: Calman "Buddy" Zamoiski, owner of Zamoiski Co. in Baltimore and the man who began rallying support for the bill last fall.

Mr. Zamoiski and his distribution company were not singled out at a House panel meeting last week, but favoritism was addressed.

"This bill's being crafted because somebody's ox is being gored -- one particular individual," said Del. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard.

An associate of Governor William Donald Schaefer and chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Zamoiski is a member of a statewide coalition of distributors that has lobbied for the bill. The group includes a company owned by Robert "Butch" Michel, Mr. Schaefer's campaign treasurer in the last election.

Mr. Wasserman has said that the bill is meant to protect all Maryland distributors -- except those now exempted -- and that it was not a response to the fact that a manufacturer recently terminated a contract with Mr. Zamoiski's company.

But a spokeswoman for Amana Refrigeration Inc. of Amana, Iowa, said that Amana's parent, Raytheon Co., announced a consolidation last fall that meant Mr. Zamoiski's company no longer could sell Raytheon's Modern Maid appliances.

A law retroactive to last year would affect that termination.

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