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House of Delegates passes new open container law

March 15, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A bill aimed at stopping 'rolling parties' on the highways passed the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday.

Passengers in vehicles could be fined $25 for carrying an open container of alcohol under the bill, which passed 122-9 with all six Washington County lawmakers in support.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee approved similar legislation Thursday, which means the measure is well on its way to becoming law.

"I thought it was a very common sense piece of legislation. Alcohol should be kept in the truck or sealed up," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

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Shank and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said they were surprised open containers aren't already against the law.

Right now it's illegal for drivers to drink an alcoholic beverage while driving, but passengers can drink without penalty.

Pennsylvania has an open container law but West Virginia does not, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

"I think every tool we can give police officers to prevent drinking and driving is good," Donoghue said.

The law would not apply to passengers in rented limousines or buses. Open containers also could be kept in locked glove compartments or car trunks.

Del. Carol Petzold, D-Montgomery, chief sponsor, noted that Maryland stands to lose more than $7 million in federal highway construction money next year unless the open container bill becomes law.

"This bill is about rolling parties that go down the road," Petzold said.

Del. Clarence Davis, D-Baltimore, questioned the need for the law.

"We continue to put laws on the books that infringe on our freedoms. Many of these laws are unnecessary," he said.

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