Parrott presents refrigerator abandonment bill

March 10, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Parrott

ANNAPOLIS — It should be a civil offense, not a crime, to abandon a refrigerator in Maryland, Del. Neil C. Parrott told his colleagues Thursday.

During a bill hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Parrott, R-Washington, argued that the refrigerator law is an outdated vestige of the 1950s, when refrigerators were built differently.

Under current law, the criminal offense of abandoning a refrigerator carries a possible jail term of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $100.

That applies to a refrigerator, icebox or freezer cabinet left outside a building "in a place accessible to children," "uncrated," and with "a door or a lock that cannot be released for opening from the inside."

Parrott's bill would change it to a civil offense, with a maximum fine of $5,000. There would be no possibility of jail time.

The law stems from a time when refrigerators couldn't be opened from the inside, making it particularly dangerous for a child to get trapped inside.

In 1956, Congress passed a Refrigerator Safety Act that makes it illegal for household refrigerators to be sold across state lines without a device allowing them to be opened from the inside. Violating the act was a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The act later was modified to increase the penalties — $500,000 for organizations and $250,000 for individuals if someone has died; $200,000 for organizations and $100,000 for individuals if no one has died, according to information posted on the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website.

Parrott explained to the committee how refrigerators used to have latches that closed, but don't anymore. He also showed slides.

A few committee members laughed at one slide, which Parrott said showed someone about to hide in a refrigerator on a TV show.

There have been 13 charges of refrigerator abandonment since 2005, Parrott said, citing Maryland State Police data. One person was convicted.

He likened his proposal to possessing an open container of alcohol in public, a civil offense.

Tracy Velázquez, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., organization, testified in favor of the bill.

She said there are "significant collateral consequences" of being convicted of a crime, including a disclosure on a job application.

She joked that Maryland could look at Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant" — in which the litterer paid a $50 fine and cleaned up trash — as a model.

The Maryland judiciary, which oversees the state's court system, submitted a statement opposing the bill. Under the bill, someone who fails to pay a fine could be sanctioned for criminal contempt and "punished more harshly than for the underlying offense," the statement said.

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