Lawmakers at odds over tip jars

March 31, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Del. John P. Donoghue drew criticism from local lawmakers Tuesday after he tried to kill Washington County's tip jar gambling bill on the House floor a day earlier.

Donoghue, D-Washington, stood up on the House floor Monday and argued against the bill, which clarifies that tip jar operators cannot also sell tip jar supplies.

"I was shocked and dismayed," said Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. "He tried to make the entire Washington County Delegation look bad. It was bad form and he ought to be ashamed of himself."


Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, also criticized Donoghue's actions.

"That wasn't the place or the time," he said.

Donoghue defended his right to speak out against the bill, saying he opposes it because the issue it seeks to address is the subject of an administrative hearing.

The Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association, whose members sell tip jars, is appealing Washington County Gaming Director Dan DiVito's decision to deny them a wholesaler's license.

"This virtually shuts out a group of people before we even have a decision," Donoghue said.

Donoghue chaired the delegation when the original tip jar law was passed in 1995. He said the restaurant and beverage association members fought for the law, which did not exclude them from becoming a wholesaler.

Shank argued that the legislation is needed to preserve a firewall between tip jar wholesalers and operators that protects against fraud in a system that tracked $83 million in gambling last year.

"There's no way to ensure that accountability. The entire system collapses and there's no way to effectively regulate tip jars," Shank said.

Some lawmakers who voted for the bill said they did so to protect the notion of local courtesy. Most of the time, the General Assembly defers to local lawmakers on bills that only affect one part of the state.

When the eight-member Washington County Delegation voted earlier this session, Donoghue was one of two local lawmakers who opposed the wholesalers provision. The vote on the entire bill was unanimous in favor.

Liquor industry lobbyists have been working to defeat the bill. Shortly before the House vote, they passed out red leaflets asking delegates to vote against the bill.

Shank accused Donoghue of putting the special interests of the liquor industry ahead of the public interest.

"I'm more interested in fairness," Donoghue said. "Fairness to me is not usurping a judge's authority. I guess we differ on that."

Donoghue wasn't the only lawmaker to speak against the bill.

Del. John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore, argued that the legislature would be setting a bad precedent by passing legislation that thwarts a possible court case.

The House passed the bill 74-55. It now goes to the Senate.

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