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MD legislators vote on liquor license expansion

4/3/14 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

MARYLAND—The General Assembly is in the process of closing its 2014 session with legislation that gives more flexibility for issuing Class D licenses in Berlin and Snow Hill, facilitates public accommodations for individuals with gender identity concerns and moves closer to reaching agreement on a fiscal budget.

The House Economic Matters Committee held a hearing on March 27 to consider SB 1079, which would expand the authority of the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners to issue Class D beer, wine, and liquor licenses beyond Ocean City to within Berlin and Snow Hill.

The legislation was requested by the Worcester County Commissioners, said sponsor Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38), in a statement.

According to an analysis of the bill, the proposal could increase Worcester County revenues by $938 for each new six-day Class D license for beer, wine, and liquor issued—and by $1,063 for each new seven-day Class D license for beer, wine, and liquor issued—within the corporate limits of the towns of Berlin and Snow Hill.

The Senate approved the legislation on March 20 by a vote of 46-0.

The House passed a fiscal year 2015 budget bill (SB 170) on March 27 by a vote of 100-38; the Senate passed their version on March 13 by a vote of 41-6. But the two versions are not identified must now be reconciled.

On March 28 the MD Senate passed the final version of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act SB 212, a bill to prohibit discrimination based upon gender identity, by adding the term “gender identity” to anti-discrimination laws. The House, voted to approve the bill by a vote of 82-57 on March 27, after the Senate had passed it on a vote of 32-15 on March 4.

At its core, the legislation is “A civil rights measure for transgender Marylanders,” the bill’s primary sponsor Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-18) told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee during a Feb. 4 hearing.

According to a legislative analysis, the bill would prohibit “discrimination based on ‘gender identity’ in public accommodations, labor and employment, and housing.” Discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation would also be prohibited by persons licensed or regulated by a unit of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, in state personnel actions, and in the leasing of property for commercial use.

None of the officials representing Worcester County voted to approve the bill, but in a statement released prior to the vote, Delegate Michael McDermott (R-38B) said the bill would “create a host of problems for Maryland businesses.”

He added, “The potential outfall and burdens that will be placed upon our businesses and families cannot be fully appreciated” and complained that House democrats had blocked attempts to amend the bill.

One concern about the bill was who would bear liability if a sexual predator, abused the legislation’s provisions to gain access to a business’s facility for an unlawful purpose, including assault on another patron. Eastern Shore Delegation Chairman Addie Eckardt (R-37B) responded that she was told that there were existing provisions under the law already that would address a crime committed on a business’s premises.

A proposed amendment by Delegate Anthony O’Donnell (R-29C) that would have prohibited a person from asserting a gender identity to enter a public accommodation for the purpose of committing an illegal activity or for prurient interest was voted down by a vote of 59-77.

In a statement after the final vote, Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “We’re proud to stand with these leaders, the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community, and other allies to complete this major piece of unfinished business—ensuring that everyone is protected from discrimination under the law. I look forward to signing this bill.”

Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown testified on behalf of the bill before the House Health and Government Operations Committee and worked with advocates and stakeholders to ensure its passage, he said in a press release applauding the vote. “Everyone deserves to be treated and protected equally under the law, and today we are making that commitment clear,” he said. Nearly one in five transgender Marylanders have lost a job because of their gender status, and more than half have been harassed in a restaurant, store, or movie theater, according to Brown. “Nobody should ever be forced to endure this kind of discrimination or harassment, and that’s why we’re taking this important step to protect all Marylanders,” he said.

On March 14, the Eastern Shore Delegation held its last meeting for the 2014 legislative session, according to Mathias. He said representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation joined the legislators, who spoke with them about the need to find solutions for protecting the environment that could work for all parties involved “so that we can continue our work to clean up the bay, without placing a strain on our local farmers.”

In her March 21 legislative wrap up, Eckardt said many bills had not survived the process and would become the basis for future legislation.

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