In the Region Bill to lower rates of auto insurance in...

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 17, 2001

In the Region

Bill to lower rates of auto insurance in city dies in House

Spurning the pleas of Baltimore drivers, a House of Delegates committee killed a bill yesterday that would have cut automobile insurance rates for city residents.

The legislation, supported by Insurance Commissioner Steven B. Larsen, would have limited the differences in rates that could be charged in different parts of the state.

Baltimore residents typically pay hundreds of dollars more each year for auto insurance than residents of Maryland's counties. The insurance industry opposed the bill, saying Baltimore drivers average more claims than motorists in other jurisdictions.

`Predatory' gas prices bill clears key House hurdle

A pricing bill sought by Maryland's independent service station owners cleared an important hurdle yesterday, winning approval from a House committee that crushed their hopes last year.

The legislation would restrict what the dealers call "predatory pricing" of gasoline - the practice of some large retail chains of selling fuel at prices below cost. Dealers insist that the legislation, which was opposed by such convenience store chains as Sheetz and Wa-Wa, is crucial to their survival.

A broader gas pricing bill won Senate approval last year, but was blocked in the House Economic Matters Committee. This year, the panel heeded the dealers' plea to pass a less sweeping bill, which also won Senate Finance Committee approval Thursday night.

Panel kills bill to let people order out-of-state wines

Responding to protests from Maryland's powerful liquor merchants, a Senate committee rejected legislation yesterday that would have permitted consumers to have wine shipped to them from other states.

The Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee turned down the bill on a 6-4 vote, even though its sponsor, Sen. Andrew P. Harris, agreed to amend the bill to require wines to be shipped to a retailer rather than to a consumer's home.

Consumers had testified that they are unable to legally acquire many wines because their producers are not represented by a Maryland distributor. But the Comptroller's Office and the retail and wholesale liquor lobbies opposed the bill, saying it would undermine the alcohol distribution system that has been in place since Prohibition.

About two dozen states allow direct wine shipments to consumers.

UAW sues to block cutting of retirees' health benefits

The United Auto Workers union is suing Pangborn Corp. to block what it says is a plan by the Hagerstown company to end retiree medical benefits.

The UAW and four retired Pangborn workers sued the company in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on behalf of about 100 retirees and their spouses. They seek an order requiring Pangborn to continue group health, life and dental insurance for retirees after their collective bargaining agreement expires April 29.

Pangborn President Ronald Stewart declined to comment on the lawsuit. The company, which designs and services machines that clean and harden metals, closed its Hagerstown manufacturing plant in October.

Elsewhere

2 Web travel firms add $10 surcharge to Northwest tickets

Travelocity.com Inc. has added $10 to all Northwest Airlines fares, to make up for money it will lose as a result of Northwest Airlines' decision to stop paying commissions to Web sites that sell its tickets.

Lowestfare.com also added a $10 surcharge - and a blinking message about Northwest's fares on its site - in response.

Travel agents worry that the March 1 policy shift by Northwest - and its partner KLM Royal Dutch Airlines - will be followed by other major carriers and represents an effort by the airlines industry to phase out commissions altogether.

This column was compiled from reports by Sun staff writers and wire services.

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