Annapolis in the rearview mirror County gained a lot in legislative session -- a car lot to be precise.

April 10, 1996

IF YOU TOLD someone that Howard County's crowning achievement in the legislative session that just concluded was a bill to allow a used car lot to operate on Sundays, the answer

would likely be "big deal."

And your reply: "Exactly."

Lifting of the "blue law" restriction that previously forbid Sunday auto sales in Howard County wasn't nearly as simple as it might appear. The county government and economic development office had to adopt a contortionist's pose of favoring the bill, but not pushing it so fervently as to anger existing dealerships. The legislation paves the way for Circuit City to enter the Baltimore-Washington market with one of its "CarMax" lots in Savage. The operation promises 300 jobs and a spurt of activity on the dormant Freestate race track site.

This grew into much more than local legislation, however, when automobile dealers from elsewhere in the Baltimore region phoned their representatives to kill the measure. They opposed it on the grounds it might force them to expand to seven-day-a-week operations and impose hardships on their own employees. That argument didn't fly, however. Maryland's experience with Sunday automotive sales in Montgomery and Prince George's counties during the past 10 years demonstrated that not all dealers in those counties feel a need to open Sundays to stay competitive.

In the end, alas, reason prevailed -- not so much for the sake of any single entrepreneur, but for a state striving to prove that it's hungry for new business. That was, in fact, one of the more coherent messages out of this General Assembly session, from the vote to build two NFL football stadiums to the lifting of the "snack tax," which, like the CarMax proposal, became a business-climate symbol far beyond its county of origin (Harford).

Howard's other bills were not nearly so controversial. In fact, the only other one that began to generate heat, if no light, was withdrawn early: to forbid the school board from approving a year-round calendar without prior approval in a countywide referendum. Since the county school board and Gov. Parris Glendening had already indicated no support for year-round schooling, Sen. Christopher McCabe's bill was the equivalent of braking the backboard with a slam dunk with his team ahead by 50 points.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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