Still blue Sunday auto sales: Anne Arundel protected 'blue law,' but state should address this in '98.

April 11, 1997

IF THEY HANDED out awards at the end of the legislative session in Annapolis, Del. Phillip D. Bissett would be a nominee this year in the category of "insulting the public's intelligence."

As chairman of the Anne Arundel County delegation, Mr. Bissett held the power to call for a vote on a bill that would allow Sunday car sales in his county. The proposal was opposed by auto dealers, who didn't want to change long-held ways of doing business. But they also didn't relish a change that would pave the way for Florida billionaire entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga to open a seven-day-a-week Auto-Nation USA used car "superstore."

In the waning days of the session, Mr. Bissett said delegates would not have time to take a vote because of so many other important issues, including the Baltimore schools bill and a state income-tax reduction. Busy, busy, busy. He failed to mention that a month earlier he had gone on record opposing the lifting of the blue law because most local dealers told him they were against it. Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, who originally opposed the change, too, reversed his position after realizing its benefits to the consumers, plus several hundred new jobs. The county's Senate delegation voted for the bill, and the full Senate followed suit, 27-17. But Mr. Bissett buried it.

A representative for AutoNation USA said the decision will cost Anne Arundel because the chain will find another location. Indeed, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have had Sunday car sales for a decade, and Howard County joined them last year.

Irrational though his explanation was, Mr. Bissett's action may -- unintentionally -- serve a useful purpose. Piecemeal erosion of the historic blue laws, with a different county seeking a waiver year after year, is confusing. Better for lawmakers in 1998 to lift the ban on Sunday auto sales throughout the state.

As for AutoNation's threat that it will go elsewhere, eventually some large auto companies will scout sites in this lucrative market. The issue is bigger than one county lawmaker, one auto "superstore" or a handful of dealers. It's about a free market and societal lifestyle changes: Consumers should be able to shop for a car on a Sunday, and there is no reason any longer for state law to dictate otherwise.

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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