House panel gives Sunday car sales bill the green light

March 28, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

A committee of the House of Delegates yesterday gave the green light to a bill that supporters say would clear the way for a used car "super-store" on the site of the former Freestate harness track in North Laurel.

The 18-4 vote by the House Economic Matters Committee paves the way for action by the full House on the bill, which would let car dealerships in Howard County open on Sundays. Currently, only Montgomery and Prince George's counties allow Sunday car sales.

The measure, already passed by the state Senate and the target of intense lobbying, was read on the floor of the House after the committee action. It is expected to come up for a final vote today.

The county's state delegation says the measure is needed to lure CarMax, a used car "super-store" and subsidiary of Circuit City that says it will locate in Howard only if it can open on Sundays.

CarMax markets cars through high-tech showrooms, with no-haggle pricing and low-pressure sales tactics. The company's Howard dealership would be its sixth outlet in the country and would bring 300 jobs.

Existing local car dealers oppose the Sunday-sales bill, saying they fear Sunday car sales could drive up their operating costs.

Aside from dealers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, most members of the Maryland New Car and Truck Dealers Association oppose Sunday car sales, officials of the group say.

CarMax and the bill's foes have hired high-powered lobbyists: Ira C. Cooke, for the opponents, and Alan Rifkin, for the supporters.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat who represents Columbia, said she was surprised at the level of lobbying activity on legislation she said would give the county a major economic boost.

"I didn't think it would be necessary on a local, common-sense, anti-regulation, pro-business bill," said Ms. Pendergrass, a member of the economic matters committee and a key proponent of the measure.

She noted that the bill was endorsed by the Howard County Council and County Executive Chuck I. Ecker, and she said the committee vote yesterday treated the matter as a local courtesy.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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