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2020 Baltimore City Liquor Bills

Session Roundup
In 2020, Del. Mosby reintroduced the “Grounds for Suspension” bill with HB509 (formerly HB965 in 2019 session) and the Protest of License Renewal Zoning Violations Act with HB441 (formerly HB980 in 2019 session). During the Baltimore City Delegation hearing, it was decided to amend HB509, changing the language to “probable cause” from “reasonably articulable suspicion”. The Liquor Board opposed HB509, primarily raising issues with timeframe for due process and whether it is reasonable to allow the Executive Secretary, a civilian employee, to determine what constitutes probable cause. Del. Mosby requested an Attorney General (AG) opinion on the bill. The AG’s office indicated that the due process provided in the bill and the provision permitting the Executive Secretary to determine probable cause was reasonable. Both bills were supported by the Baltimore City Delegation and passed the House; however, the General Assembly ended early due to the Covid-19 pandemic and many bills were stalled, including these two bills.

2019 Baltimore City Liquor Bills

Session Roundup
After 90 days of intense legislative activity, we are excited to share that three important alcohol bills passed this session, two citywide and one statewide.

Onto Passage
HB 959 Baltimore City – Alcoholic Beverages – Licenses Renewals and Adult Entertainment Act  (Baltimore City)
As of July 1, 2019, citizens will now be able to look at the past four (4) years, instead of only one (1) year, of a license holder’s violation history to trigger a citizen protest of a liquor license renewal. Just as the past history of the licensee is used by the Liquor Board to assess fines and penalties for violations, it will now be allowed to be considered when a license renewal is being protested. This bill also prohibits individuals under the age of 21 from entering establishments that offer certain adult entertainment unless the individual is an employee, an agent or a contractor of the establishment.

HB 960 Alcoholic Beverages – Local Licenses – Prohibited Transfers Act  (Baltimore City)
The practice of transferring ownership to avoid penalties will be more difficult for license holders come October 1, 2019. With the passage of this bill, license holders who have pending criminal charges or disciplinary matters before the Liquor Board will not be permitted to transfer ownership to avoid facing penalties. By fixing this loophole, the Liquor Board will have more authority to hold the most egregious license holders accountable.

HB 1052 Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (Statewide)
After a veto override, the General Assembly passed HB 1052 into law establishing a new Alcohol and Tobacco Commission effective June 1, 2020. Through the Commission, best practices will be established for data-informed liquor inspections, server/seller training, reporting requirements between police and liquor boards and much more. This statewide bill has broad public health and safety implications for alcohol regulation in Maryland.

Sent for Interim Study
HB 965 Baltimore City – Liquor Licensing Board – Emergency Suspension of License Act (Baltimore City)
This bill would have given the Liquor Board the power to immediately suspend a liquor license when a death or serious injury occurs at an alcohol outlet. It would have allowed the Executive Secretary of the Liquor Board to suspend a license immediately if there is reasonable suspicion that the license holder has not taken action to prevent violence on his property and provide for a timely hearing on the suspension. Despite receiving a favorable review from the Office of the Attorney General, this bill was sent to interim study for further examination over the summer and fall. BGNC is committed to getting this bill re-introduced in the 2020 Legislative Session and will work closely with the Committee staff to see it through.

HB 980 Alcoholic Beverages – Protest of License Renewal Zoning Violations Act (Baltimore City)
This bill would have removed a Baltimore-only liquor rule that prohibits the Liquor Board from considering zoning violations when liquor license renewals are protested by citizens. This prohibition limits neighborhoods’ ability to bring cases before the Liquor Board and restricts the Liquor Board’s ability to hold liquor license holders accountable for violating laws that are designed to protect the public. This bill was also sent for interim study, and BGNC is equally committed to getting this bill re-introduced next session.

Alcohol & Violence

Baltimore City leaders and communities have many potential solutions to address surging homicides, Among them: reducing the number of alcohol outlets.

Murder clusters around alcohol outlets. Each additional alcohol outlet in a census tract raises the homicide rate 1.6 percent. Nearly half of all homicides — 47 percent — are caused by excessive drinking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means that the murder wouldn’t have happened if the perpetrator hadn’t been drinking. Apply CDC’s calculations to Baltimore, and 161 of the 343 homicides in 2017 were caused by excessive drinking.

Learn more about alcohol’s role in Baltimore City’s violence epidemic with the following:

Baltimore Alcohol & Violence Fact Sheet (PDF)
Baltimore Alcohol & Violence Fact Sheet References
2018 Baltimore Sun Op-Ed

TransForm Baltimore: Alcohol Provisions

TransForm Baltimore (TransForm) is an update to the Baltimore City zoning code that was passed by the Baltimore City Council on December 5, 2016. It was the first update to the zoning code since 1971. TransForm contains several provisions that relate to alcohol outlets in Baltimore City.

The rules and regulations included in TransForm went into effect as of June 5, 2017.
Liquor Stores in Residential Districts (§ 18-701)

The 1971 rewrite of Baltimore’s zoning code prohibited the operation of liquor stores in residential districts (R Districts). Despite this regulation, liquor stores that already existed in these districts could continue operating under a “conditional use” license granted by the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA).

Forty (40) years later, during the TransForm planning process, approximately 100 of these liquor stores still remained in R Districts. With the passage of TransForm, any liquor store located in an R District is now considered a non-conforming use and must stop selling alcoholic beverages and change the nature of the business or move by June 5, 2019.

Currently, there are approximately 76 non-conforming liquor stores located in R Districts. You can visit the CityView Map of Baltimore to get the new zoning information and to determine if a liquor store in a location would be subject to this provision.

Taverns (§ 14-337)

A tavern is any business that primarily sells alcoholic beverages for customers to drink on site, but may also sell alcoholic beverages for customers to take off site.

Under TransForm, taverns may only continue to operate in Baltimore City if:

  • They have the correct license type from the Board of Liquor License Commissioners of Baltimore City (BD-7);
  • At least 50% of their total average daily receipts are from products they sell for customers to consume on site;
  • At least 50% of the public floor space is devoted to on-site consumption; and
  • They keep records of all alcoholic beverage sales to ensure they meet the 50% on-site sales requirements, and these receipts are made available for inspection to validate compliance.

Currently, city staff is working to assess and identify taverns that may be out of compliance with the new regulation. For taverns found to be in violation, a notice will be issued by the city requiring compliance. If they do not meet these regulations, they will be required to cease operations.

The regulations concerning taverns are in addition to existing state regulations. If you would like to learn more about the state regulations, visit the Baltimore City Board of Liquor License Commissioner’s Rules and Regulations.

Hardship Waiver (§ 18-701(b))

The owners of both taverns and non-conforming liquor stores may request a hardship waiver for an additional two-year extension granting them up to four years to comply with the new code. However, they must file a hardship waiver request by June 5, 2018. More information about the rules and limitations for requesting a hardship waiver are available on the TransForm Baltimore website.

Distance Restrictions (§ 14-336)

TransForm requires that any new establishments that sell alcoholic beverages be located at least 300 feet from any other existing establishments that sells alcoholic beverages. The BMZA may grant a waiver during the conditional use process to allow a new establishment that sells alcoholic beverages to open within 300 feet of an existing establishment if the new establishment can prove that its operation will have “no negative impact to public health, safety, and welfare.”

This spacing requirement does not apply in C-5, C-1-E, and PC Districts

Alcoholic Beverage Advertising and Signs (§ 17-602)

TransForm sets restrictions on alcohol advertising and signage in any publicly visible location, including any outdoor billboard, side of a building, or freestanding signboard. It includes the following regulations:

  1. For each business that is licensed to sell alcoholic beverages, only one sign per street front that contains the name or slogan of the business is allowed; no other exterior wall or window signage is permitted.
  2. The total signage on each street front cannot cover more that 15% of the window and exterior wall.

What does this mean for you?

You and other members of your community will play an important role in ensuring these new regulations are enforced. Although the alcohol outlets will have at least two years to conform or cease operations, there a few things you can do now:

  • First, consult the CityView Map of Baltimore to determine if any liquor stores in your neighborhood are impacted by the new code. Educate yourself about what makes a tavern noncompliant and what the owner must do to comply with the new code.
  • Second, stay aware of important deadlines, including the deadline to file for the hardship waiver and the date by which these establishments are required to conform to the new zoning requirements. Pay attention to whether the non-conforming establishments in your neighborhood have filed for a hardship waiver, made modifications to comply with the zoning code, or have permanently closed,
  • And finally, continue to check the Baltimore Good Neighbors Coalition’s (BGNC) Facebook and Twitter posts to stay updated on the latest news regarding alcohol outlet legislation and enforcement. As the deadlines for waiver requests and compliance draw near and decisions about enforcement are made, BGNC will continue to provide important updates for community members regarding the process for filing a complaint about non-compliant establishments.