Antique dealers win round against city Council bill requiring extensive regulation will be reworked

November 18, 1995|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

About two dozen antique dealers and secondhand shop owners, incensed about a Baltimore City Council bill that they say would have regulated them out of business, scuttled the legislation yesterday and won an agreement that the bill will be redrafted more to their liking.

The bill, introduced into council last month, would have required dealers and owners to document most acquisitions with a transaction sheet that detailed the seller's name, address and physical description for each object bought.

Police said the documentation would prevent a rush of fenced goods showing up in the shops.

Most of the city's 384 licensed dealers said the bill was unfair and treated them as if they couldn't be trusted.

"The assumption here is we are a bunch of crooks," said Steve Bunker, owner of China Sea Marine Trading Co. in Fells Point, during a special Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday to explore the issue.

"This law is badly drawn and needs to go back to the drawing board," Mr. Bunker said. "This law is supposed to stop criminals."

The dealers said that documenting every piece of jewelry, clothing and other objects would be time-consuming and sometimes impossible due to their business volume.

They also said the police were taking too much of a hard line.

If the reports were not filled out correctly and immediately after the item was bought and mailed to the police by the next day, the antique dealers said, they could have faced a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

The shop owners said they are not opposed to some kind of legislation that would help police stop stolen goods from showing up in their stores.

However, they say that they don't want to be bogged down in paperwork.

After several hours of haggling with the head of the committee, 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, and Detective Charles M. Mclaughlin, who supported the first draft of the bill, the dealers left City Hall feeling relieved.

"I'm happy that it's going back to the drawing board," said Donna Jenkins, owner of The Zone on Charles Street. "But we need to work with it."

When the new draft will be worked out is uncertain, said Ms. Spector.

She said she intends to rework the bill with the input of the merchants.

The issue came to a head last summer when city police conducted a sting on Howard street antique shops and charged six owners with buying stolen goods.

Police said the owners were breaking the law because they did not document where and how they got their acquisitions.

The police maintained that the dealers had to follow the same law on the books that requires pawnbrokers to keep detailed records.

The police were wrong.

A Circuit Court judge ruled that the law was not specific enough to include antique and secondhand dealers.

All charges against the six shop owners were dropped.

But by then, the ball was rolling in the City Council in the form of draft legislation requiring the dealers to keep records much as pawnbrokers have done for years.

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