Update 3 - HB558/PG315-10 Entertainment Permit

UPDATE 4: 2010.05.20 HB558 signed into law by Governor in final form as Chapter 684 (supercedes versions below). This law enters into effect July 1, 2010. Then the Liquor Board will develop regulations to implement its provisions.
UPDATE 3: 2010.04.12 According to a P.G. County official, HB558/PG315-10 passed the Maryland Senate today (with no changes to the House version), the last day of this legislative session. There are no expected impediments to the Governor signing HB558 into law.
UPDATE 2: 2010.04.02 Fixed link to full text of HB558, and added fiscal and policy note 
UPDATE 1: 2010.03.31 If i correctly understand  the MLIS bill status page, this is the final wording of the House adopted HB558 and this is the HB558 Fiscal and Policy Note at its third reading on March 25, when it passed the full Maryland House of Delegates by a vote of 131 Yeas, 7 Nays. To become law, it still needs to pass in the Maryland Senate.
My intention with this post is to share some data that some might find useful, regardless of your particular views on HB558, and at bottom (or where noted) i will share my own personal views, knowing that your own mileage may vary.

i fully respect the good intentions and good judgement of those who may agree or disagree with me -- Just because they may disagree with me does not mean they are wrong --

I especially respect our long-serving community-supporting State House Delegates in District 23/A and District 21 and elsewhere, who have fought along side me and others in the community against violent bars like J's Cafe, Dinosaurs, Club Amazon, and Club Rio. Our faithful Delegates have had to make important decisions about how to vote (on the record) , in response to their various constituencies, each emphasizing different concerns about the county's long history of club violence associated with Class B liquor licenses and "dancing/entertainment", the liquor license process, and a need for more police involvement.

I'm one of those "well-meaning citizens who pushed for changes to HB558" -- which were adopted -- So HB558 Now does require public notice to communities and input from communities where a Permit is being considered. And HB558 Now does mandate that applicants submit a security plan to the Chief of Police prior to approval of the Entertainment Permit, subject to continual inspection and enforcement.

The following is how i understand it so far -- factual corrections are always welcome

See my above Update 2010.03.31 for the CURRENT wording of HB558 (aka PG-315-10)

This web page tracks actions on this bill by the Prince George's Delegation

I learned that www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com tracks all Prince George's House Delegation legislation, each of which have corresponding State Assembly bills numbers, in this case HB558 . At the State Assembly site mlis.state.md.us you can track bill status and amendments BUT MLIS is slower to update status (at mlis.state.md.us/#bill ) so watch www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com/legislation/bill-history?local=PG%20315-10 for updates.

[Computer stuff maybe you know]
At www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com/legislation/bill-history?local=PG%20315-10
After you download the AmendmentView files, if you don't have Windows 7, you may need to add .DOCX to the end of the filename and change each filename before downloading the next AmendmentView file so they don't overwrite each other. Also, if your wordprocessor does not read .DOCX files, you can download and install on any computer (PC, MAC, Linux, etc) the free, Microsoft-compatible Open Office suite at openoffice.org
[END computer stuff]

There are a fixed 185 Class B (beer, wine, liquor) licenses in Prince George's County (Code 2B 9-217) , about 16 of which, i understand, are not held by anyone right now.

There can be no more new Entertainment Permits than there are Class B (beer, wine, liquor) licenses. So there can not be "a bar on every corner". There Could Be a bar on any Particular corner, which is what the Liquor Board Rulebook addresses.

I suspect, but need data (*), that most Class B license holders who want dancing/entertainment already have it -- HB558 requires them ALL to get the new Permit (and Security Plan, see below), which is how dancing/entertainment would be approved and pro-actively enforced in future, instead the current liquor lcense process of placing conditions on the Class B license, often retro-actively. (*) The Liquor Board is currently conducting a survey of Class B licencees to determine what entertainment they are offering, at a level of detail not previously available.

So, i think it will not be quick or easy for many more Class B entertainment venues than already exist, to arise under HB558/PG315-10. Your own assessment of that may vary.

HB558/PG315-10 was first read on Feb 3 (attached). The bill creates a new instrument, called an "Entertainment Permit". Class B liquor licensees (beer, wine, liquor) would have to apply to the Liquor Board for the new Permit which, if granted for a $1500 fee, would allow patron dancing, entertainment (unspecified), cover charge, all from 9 pm to 2am. From now on (after July 1, if the bill becomes law), such activities would only be allowed with the new Permit, even for licensees currently allowed such activities under their current Class B liquor license (all of which expire annually around May, subject to renewal, but now needing the separately approved Permit for entertainment).

The original Feb 3 wording of HB558 was highly suspect and immediately opposed by pro-community activists and House Delegates who have long fought against inappropriate entertainment, patron dancing, and late hours at clubs, bars, or restaurants with Class B liquor licenses, many of which have become iconic locations fostering chronic violence over many years. Objections included whether or not the granting, renewal and revocation of this new Permit would be a public process with sufficient community input to the Liquor board, and what kind of entertainment would be allowed (apparently including live bands, maybe even including exotic dancing, etc.) and would the bill allow the Liquor Board to prohibit/restrict or condition each activity under the Permit separately as it does now with conditions on Class B licenses (not nearly often enough) But at least under the current License process (to be replaced by the Permit) the Liquor Board has been able until now to create specific license conditions to address community concerns (if they were heard), to prevent exotic dancing, etc. -- Or would the bill's wording prevent such precise control of entertainment activities under the permit, forcing the Liquor Board to simply deny or grant an omnibus Entertainment Permit that would allow for patron dancing and ALL kinds of entertainment every night up until 2 AM, which, if if the bill ended up that way, would be Totally Unacceptable.

On Mar 18 very detailed amendments (1 & 2) supported by the Prince George's County Police Department, lead by Police Chief Hylton, were adopted into the bill by the Prince George's Delegation Law Enforcement committee. Those amendments require that ALL Class B liquor licensed businesses who want to get the new Entertainment Permit will have to create a Security Plan to be Pre-viewed by the county Chief of Police, and any infractions of that Security Plan to be enforced by the Liquor Board. These Security Plan provisions are good and strong and will go a long way to reducing violence at clubs, if for no other reason than they make security staffing (and inspections of security staffing) a highly visible and enforceable process (unlike today)

Adopted Amendments 3 & 4 require that the Liquor Board hold public hearings for community input before each life-cycle decision about the Entertainment Permit (issuance, renewal, and revocation by protest or violation).

On Mar 19 adopted technical amendments 5&6 (numbered 1 & 2 in the file) clarified the conditions that must be met to get a Permit, but left open whether meeting those requirements established a right to conduct any/all of the kinds of activities addressed by the Permit process and whether the bill might reduce Liquor Board powers to impose specific prohibitions/restriction/conditions on each activity covered by the Permit.

Another amendment was adopted (but is not downloadable yet) requiring the Liquor Board to report experience with the new Permit process by a date certain (in 2013?)

On Mar 19 HB558/PG315-10 was voted and adopted by the full Prince George's House Delegation

My current understanding that HB558/PG315-10 as it stands without further amendment would not undo provisions of Maryland Code 2B Alcoholic Beverages from which the Liquor Board derives its powers to make precise prohibitions/restrictions/conditions on each kind of dancing/entertainment activities and hours under the new Permit. This, if so, gives the community (through HB558's required community input) even more precise control over dancing, entertainment, etc. than before.

So, i believe that HB558/PG315-10, as it awkwardly began, but evolved through amendments, is a mix of very good provisions (Security Plan, Community Input) and concerns whether the proposed Permit process is better than current liquor license practice.

I believe that, although HB558/PG315-10 can be improved, it already does provide much more close and consequential scrutiny of dancing and entertainment activities by Police and the Liquor Board, much more community influence in Liquor Board decisions regarding entertainment and protection from club violence -- much more than we have under the current liquor license process. Liquor Board Rule Book

Your own mileage may vary, of course.

I trust people on this list will keep your elected officials apprised of your own views about this.