House vote clears way for CarMax Bill allowing Sunday car sales in county is approved 112-20

Governor expected to sign

Balto. Co. delegates fail in delaying tactic

March 29, 1996|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

A used car "superstore" is coming to Howard County.

After brief but spirited debate, the state House overwhelmingly passed a bill yesterday that clears the way for CarMax to locate in the county with the promise of 300 new jobs.

The House passed the bill by a 112-20 vote, repealing a section of the state's blue laws to allow car dealerships to open in Howard on Sundays. The measure sailed through the House after members beat down attempts by Baltimore County delegates to delay its implementation for a year.

The measure clears the way for CarMax, a Richmond-based subsidiary of Circuit City, to open at the former Freestate harness track in North Laurel. CarMax has said it would not open in Howard County without permission to operate on Sundays.

Dianna Rosborough, a spokeswoman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the governor would sign the bill, which was approved in February by the Senate, 35-9.

"The governor is very supportive of the legislation," Ms. Rosborough said. "It's jobs for the state; it's revenue for the state."

The legislation allowing Sunday sales takes effect Oct. 1. CarMax plans to open in about a year.

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.

In the days before the House vote, high-powered lobbyists on both sides stepped up their campaigns by distributing literature to delegates asking for their support or opposition.

Alan Rifkin, one of the state's top lobbyists, was hired by CarMax. Three former delegates joined him to persuade House members to vote for the bill.

"It was a highly contested bill, and it was important to educate people as to its impact," said Mr. Rifkin, who said CarMax is looking forward to breaking ground for its North Laurel location.

The opposition was led by Ira C. Cooke, another of the state's top lobbyists. He complained that CarMax "hired a significant number of lobbyists to get this bill through."

"The bill, as passed by the House today, will give CarMax an exclusive monopoly in the Baltimore metropolitan area to do business with a distinct advantage over car dealers that have been in the state for 90 years and adhering to state laws," he said.

Howard County lawmakers unanimously supported the measure and asked their colleagues to extend local courtesy.

Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Howard Democrat, said it was a rare occasion when Democrats and Republicans in the county's delegation agreed on an issue.

Calling on his colleagues to pass the measure, Minority Leader ++ Robert H. Kittleman, a Howard Republican, said CarMax was not seeking financial help.

He noted that the legislature yesterday approved four bills providing loans and grants to persuade businesses to locate in Maryland.

"This company says, 'We will come without these loans. We will come without these grants.' And they say [they] will employ 300 people," Mr. Kittleman said. "This is a real economic opportunity that will cost the state nothing."

Opponents argued that the bill would give car dealerships in Howard County an unfair competitive advantage over dealers in nearby jurisdictions that are not permitted Sunday sales.

Montgomery and Prince George's counties are the only other jurisdictions that have exemptions for Sunday car sales from state blue laws.

Del. Diane DeCarlo, a Baltimore County Democrat, introduced an amendment that would have delayed implementation of the measure until 1997.

The amendment's language was identical to a provision rejected Tuesday, before the House Economic Matters Committee approved the bill 18-4.

Del. Joseph J. Minnick, a Baltimore County Democrat, said he was contacted by concerned car dealers in his district about the bill.

"This is going to change the whole outlook for car dealers in the state," said Mr. Minnick.

He said that the measure would have implications beyond Howard County and that car dealers in other jurisdictions may have to seek similar legislation for their counties next year.

Del. Gerald J. Curran, a Baltimore Democrat, said a one-year delay would give lawmakers in other jurisdictions a chance to seek similar legislation to allow Sunday auto sales.

But Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard Republican, insisted that the bill was a local initiative. He said no other counties have asked for legislative approval for Sunday car sales since Montgomery and Prince George's counties in 1986. He asked his colleagues to reject Ms. DeCarlo's amendment.

"If this amendment is accepted, the bill will be killed, and we will not have 300 jobs," he said. "And it is likely that these 300 jobs will go to Virginia."

After the amendment was soundly defeated on a voice vote, Del. Alfred W. Redmer Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, asked the House to delay a vote on the bill for one day. But that effort also was defeated.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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