County mulls which bills to get behind
Commissioners to review proposals for legislation with state delegation
Ahead of the 2019 General Assembly session, the St. Mary’s County commissioners preliminarily reviewed numerous legislative proposals Tuesday morning, including proposals related to liquor licenses, employment in medical canna- bis growing facilities and commercial business tax incentives.
Of the 13 proposed bills, three seek to address issues regarding the sale of alcohol, and received a mixed response from the commissioners.
The first, proposed by a private citizen and business owner, would allow drive-through window alcohol sales if the drivethrough already exists “and if the owner had a prior license for drivethrough window alcohol sales” in the county, according to a memo.
The county has “roughly six or seven” operating drive-through windows, Tamara Hildebrand, an administrator with the alcohol beverage board, said.
The county prohibits liquor stores from opening new drive-through windows, but exempts existing stores.
Hildebrand said she did not support the proposal “from an enforcement standpoint,” and said it was not brought before the alcohol board.
“It’s hard to evaluate someone through a drivethrough window,” Hildebrand said, regarding someone’s age and sobriety.
Commissioner John O’Connor (R) was singular among the commissioners in his support of the bill.
The other proposals would remove language which prohibits restaurants or clubs from serving alcohol on Sundays, which “currently, I guess, everyone is in violation of,” county attorney David Weiskopf said. “It’s just a cleanup.”
That proposal is meant to conform to the legislation passed in 1971 removing all prohibitions to Sunday sales in St. Mary’s County.
Another piece of legislation brought forth by the alcohol beverage board could allow Class C per diem alcohol license holders to possess another license of a different class.
Organizations can receive a Class C license, but “the problem is when someone that already has a liquor license serves on one of those boards, it prohibits them from getting this license as well,” Weiskopf said.
O’Connor did not support either of those proposals, saying that they “basically allow for the carte blanche” sale of alcoholic beverages from “hundreds of establishments,” while the proposed bill regarding drive-through sales
was a “limited amount of windows.”
O’Connor, on behalf of Charlie Mattingly, who owns a cannabis dispensary in Mechanicsville, introduced a proposal regarding the age of growers permitted in a cannabis growing facility, which would require employees at such a facility to be at least 18 years old. Mattingly hopes to expand into growing marijuana.
State law dictates that employees 21 years or older be permitted within cannabis processing facilities and dispensaries, but “does not speak on the age of growers,” Weiskopf said.
O’Connor said Mattingly looks at the issue as an “economic driver,” opening up his operation to more young adults as he plans to expand his facility to employ possibly hundreds more growers.
Although Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) supported the bill, commissioners Mike Hewitt (R) and Eric Colvin (R) did not support it, while Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said he wants to see more cohesion from Annapolis on the burgeoning industry before making any decisions.
O’Connor noted that there seemed to be “support among the delegation” for the proposal.
To retain innovative start-ups, the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development submitted legislation regarding tax incentives for such commercial businesses, including one that would reduce their personal income tax, by up to $1,000, for start-up chief executive officers and five of their employees, although Hewitt suggested that number be increased to nine employees.
In the current language of the proposed bill, Department of Defense-related businesses are prohibited from the tax break, although aviation, unmanned autonomous systems, agriculture and aquaculture, “commercialization of defense technologies” and advanced manufacturing are listed as targeted industries for the tax reduction.
The DoD was excluded because “we’re trying to diversify our economy,” Chris Kaselemis, director
of economic development, said.
“Those arenas are so tightly knitted,” Morgan said about DoD and other aviation entities in the county. “I’m very concerned how you would separate the two of them.”
“That would be a challenge, I agree,” Kaselemis said.
largely supported the proposal, although O’Connor said he was “on the fence” given the amount of other tax-incentive programs in the county. The commissioners also suggested that language regarding the eligible industries be changed to allow them more discretion.
The commissioners did not support a second
economic development proposal regarding a tax reduction for commercial property owners within designated growth areas for renovating, rehabilitating or upgrading their businesses.
The proposal will still go before the delegation, but without a letter of support from the board. The commissioners said the pro- gram should wait until the updated zoning ordinance is in place, with O’Connor calling it a “cart-before-thehorse scenario.”
The public will have another chance to hear about all of the proposals during a joint meeting between the commissioners and state delegation next Tuesday, Dec. 11.