Bill to increase city alcohol permit input clears assembly

A bill that restructures the county’s liquor licensing board has passed both houses of the Maryland General Assembly and now awaits the governor’s signature.

The measure is a compromise between Salisbury and Wicomico County leaders after the city sought to create its own licensing board – a move that created controversy and didn’t have the full support of the Eastern Shore Delegation.

Under the new legislation, the Wicomico County Board of Licenses Commissioners will be expanded from three to five members, all of whom would be appointed by the governor.

Three of the five must be city residents; both the city’s Mayor and County Executive would have to agree on which names are submitted to the governor, said state Delegate Carl Anderton.

The current board is short a member, as Salisbury building contractor Chris Eccleston resigned from the panel last year. The current board members are James Allen who serves alongside Chair A. Kaye Kenney.

Under the new legislation, the terms of Kenney and Allen will expire in 2022. The terms of each of new appointees will expire in 2024

The changes take effect July 1. Anderton said he was not certain when Gov. Larry Hogan is scheduled to sign the bill into law.

Salisbury officials had been considering establishing a city liquor licensing board for a few years, but it was put on the fast track after County Executive Bob Culver publicly questioned how a liquor license was granted for last September’s National Folk Festival.

Culver said the city and state Comptroller Peter Franchot acted illegally when Franchot’s office granted a license for the festival, thereby bypassing the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners.

Day has said that after city officials perceived the county’s licensing board was dragging its feet on approving a beer and wine license at last year’s event, the city went to Hogan and then to Franchot whose office ultimately signed off on the license.

Kenney has disputed the mayor’s assertion, pointing out that a local nonprofit that had planned to oversee 2018’s alcohol sales for the event, withdrew its participation before the board could act.

Franchot could still grant a license for this year’s National Folk Festival, set for Sept. 11-13, before a new law limiting his authority takes effect.

During last year’s session, the General Assembly passed a bill that transfers the alcohol and tobacco regulatory powers from the Comptroller’s Office to a new five-member Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, to be appointed by the governor.

Hogan vetoed the measure, but the General Assembly voted to override the governor and pass the bill into law, effective this July 1.

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