Legislators steer carefully on Sunday car sales Howard bill revives blue-law controversy

February 14, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this story.

Hoping to quell a firestorm of opposition, state legislators are trying to scale back a bill to allow Sunday car sales in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, and make it apply only to Howard.

The bill -- which is intended to pave the way for CarMax, a "superstore" used car dealer, to locate in North Laurel -- threatens to ignite the perennial issue of blue laws barring Sunday car sales in most of Maryland.

Legislative leaders, including Sen. Walter M. Baker, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, want to avoid such a statewide debate and have delayed action on the bill, which was to have come to the Senate floor today.

"This was intended to be a local Howard County bill," said Mr. Baker, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, about attempts to expand the bill beyond Howard. "You shouldn't mess with local bills."

Howard lawmakers, who had little inkling that their local bill would face major opposition, worry that failure to pass it could lead CarMax to locate elsewhere.

"It's been little bit of a hornets' nest that we've entered," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, the Republican chairman of the Howard County delegation. "The blue laws have always been controversial in Maryland."

Most of the state's blue law restrictions, which date to the Colonial era, were lifted during the 1980s. Car dealers are a major exception, with only Montgomery and Prince George's dealers allowed to sell on Sundays.

Howard lawmakers took aim at the Sunday restriction after CarMax, a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Circuit City stores, announced plans for a 300-worker used car operation on the vacant Freestate Raceway in North Laurel.

Sunday sales would allow a Howard County-based CarMax to compete with dealerships in neighboring Montgomery and Prince George's. Without it, CarMax would locate closer to Baltimore -- where it would face no Sunday competition -- or to Northern Virginia, said Paul Rakov, a spokesman for CarMax.

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