Del. Antonio Hayes has submitted a bill to the General Assembly to raise the maximum fine for a first-time offense of selling alcohol to minors in Baltimore City. (Photo courtesy of Del. Antonio Hayes)
Baltimore City has the lowest maximum fine – tied with Calvert County – for a first-time offense of selling alcohol to minors. Del. Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore City) has introduced a bill in the General Assembly to double the current maximum fine, from $500 to $1,000.
“This bill, like other pieces of my legislation, is really the brainchild of people in communities that I represent,” said Hayes, who tells the AFRO that his bill was spurred by the advocacy of Dr. Marvin Cheatham, president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association, on the issue of liquor sales to minors.
Currently, in Baltimore City, the Board of Liquor License Commissioners (BLLC) can impose a fine of up to $500 on an establishment for its first offense of selling alcohol to minors. Subsequent offenses allow a maximum fine of $3,000, and Hayes says his bill, House Bill 868 (HB0868), would simply put the initial fine more on par with the fine for subsequent offenses.
Baltimore City’s current maximum fine is well below that of other counties in the state, according to the freshman delegate. In adjacent Baltimore County, the maximum fine for a first offense of selling alcohol to minors is $2,000. In Prince George’s it is $12,500, and in Montgomery County it is $20,000, says Hayes.
“Most liquor stores, $500 is what they do in two to three hours, so it’s not really sending them a message of the importance of serving alcohol to minors,” said Hayes.
Cheatham tells the AFRO that there are 15 establishments selling or serving alcohol in the vicinity of his neighborhood, four of which were fined last year for selling alcohol to minors.
“What we were seeing was not only violence and crime associated with the liquor stores, but we were beginning to see an uptick in the sale of liquor to young people because they weren’t checking the IDs,” said Cheatham, who says the current BLLC has been more aggressive in policing sales to minors, but that its penalties need more teeth.
“Where it is now . . . that’s far too little when you consider you sold liquor to a minor,” said Cheatham.
According to Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, executive secretary of the BLLC for Baltimore City, 44 establishments were fined for selling alcohol to minors in fiscal year 2013, with approximately 75 establishments being fined for, or charged with, selling alcohol to minors in fiscal 2014 (running from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015).
The process for fining an establishment begins with a police vice operation, generally involving an underage cadet, who attempts to purchase alcohol. If the undercover cadet is not ID’d and sold alcohol (or sold alcohol despite an ID showing the cadet was underage), the police file a report with BLLC who then holds a hearing to determine guilt and the appropriate fine.
“Last year visited approximately 150 locations throughout the city,” said Bailey-Hedgepeth.
“The majority of the liquor stores and taverns in the district are responsible establishments,” said Hayes, “it’s just that there’s a couple of bad apples that are not responsible, so this is really to go after the ones who are not being responsible.”
Because HB0868 simply raises the maximum fine that can be assessed against an establishment for a first offense of selling alcohol to minors, the bill has no direct costs for implementation.