Underage drinkers may be fined $500 General Assembly approves 'serious' liquor-citation law

April 13, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

Underage drinkers purchasing alcohol in Anne Arundel County will find themselves in court, facing fines of up to $500, under a bill passed by the General Assembly yesterday.

The law, if signed by the governor, would allow Anne Arundel County liquor inspectors to cite anyone under 21 for buying alcoholic beverages.

"Right now, absolutely nothing happens to a minor," said Tom Riggin, chairman of the county's three-member liquor board. "Quite frankly, they seem to think it's a big joke."

The liquor-citation law is one of a handful of measures passed during the 90-day legislative session, which ended yesterday, that specifically affects Anne Arundel County.

The law sends the message that "we are serious about underage drinking," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who sponsored the legislation. "It says if they are violating county liquor laws, they are going to be held accountable."

Minors who purchase a case of beer and are caught, Mr. Riggin said, often are asked to testify as witnesses against the package store owner.

"High school kids, the way they are, probably take it as a badge of honor," he said. "We've got to do something to make them start paying."

The citation would be similar to a traffic ticket. Those under 18 would have to go before the juvenile court; others would go to District Court.

Prince George's and Montgomery counties already have similar laws.

State lawmakers also paved the way for the Annapolis Wine Festival, which organizers said had outgrown St. Johns College campus and the Elks Lodge property on Rowe Boulevard, to move to Sandy Point State Park in 1994. The organizers will have to return to the legislature next year to continue the festival in 1995.

The "sunset" provision was attached to the bill after Maryland wineries expressed concern that the festival caters to out-of-state wines. On the other hand, said Del. Michael Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, interstate commerce rules prevent the county from prohibiting wines from other states.

State lawmakers also authorized the County Council to increase the surcharge on marriage license fees from $25 to $45. The surcharge is used to operate shelters for abused women and to counsel abusive men.

Under the law, the council could increase the total marriage fee to $55 -- the $10 license, plus a $45 surcharge.

Officials with the county's Battered Spouse Program, run by the YWCA Women's Center of Anne Arundel County, said the number of families seeking help increased 21 percent in 1992. Meanwhile, taxpayer support through the county and state grants is dwindling, they said.

Within the state budget, lawmakers earmarked about $10 million to help the county finance construction of a new Solley School, purchase property on Rowe Boulevard for a new District Court building and build an allied sciences building at Anne Arundel Community College.

Several state projects within the county also were approved. Lawmakers passed $3.1 million for renovations at Crownsville State Hospital and $2 million for a South Beach facility and improvements to the Visitor's Center at Sandy Point State Park.

Del. John Gary, a Millersville Republican, said county residents also will benefit greatly from the state-financed expansion of Baltimore's Convention Center and the construction of a minor-league baseball stadium in Prince George's County, just south of Crofton.

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