The Maryland state Senate recently adopted legislation that may re-open Montgomery County's "swap meets" and make life easier for occasional exhibitors at flea markets, garage sales and antique shows.
The swap meets - county-sponsored markets held in a garage behind the county office building in Rockville - died last August after the state said it would begin enforcing a law that required participants to fork over $16 or more for a state trader's license.
That law has been costly and difficult to enforce, costing the state of Maryland about $5,000 to collect $2,600 in fees from housewives, amateur potters and others who are covered by its provisions, according to Marvin Bond, assistant to the state comptroller. The fine for not having a license is $100 or 30 days in jail.
Changes proposed in the law and adopted by the Senate would exempt temporary exhibitors from the requirement that they pay the fee, said Bond. That exemption was proposed by comptroller Louis Goldstein as an amendment to a bill introduced by Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D-Balt.), chairman of the economic affairs committee. The bill was passed by the Senate last Friday and now is before the House of Delegates.
"If they approve the bill, we'll reschedule the swap meets," said Montgomery County Executive James P. Gieason. "They gave people an opportunity to meet each other and exchange things that they had in their basements and garages for what other people had in their basements and garages," said Gleason, who said he had bought several books at the meets.
"There are too many restrictions on people's activities," said Gleason. He said he hoped the General Assembly would approve the changes.
The swap meets started more than three years ago, with the county hoping to provide sellers with a broader market and to establish a central place for residents to bring discarded household items that might otherwise be left on the curb for the trash collector. If the items were not sold, they were collected at the central point and hauled to the county landfill.
Last year the legislature tightened the laws affecting garage sales, flea markets and other similar operations, responding to some pressure from antique dealers and other retailers. Before, although licenses had been required, it was difficult for the state to enforce the requirement, said Bond. Last year's change in the law made the promoters - the Montgomery County government in the case of the swap meets - responsible.
"It was uneconomical for us to enforce," said Bond. The state licensing bureau, whose job it was, spent approximately $5,000 in overtime since last July 1, enforcing the law and collected only about $2,600. Because so many of the events are held on weekends, strict enforcement demanded overtime by the state's 14 license inspectors, he said.
"Somebody who has a fixed place of business and sells things is required to have a trader's license," said Bond. The $16 fee is the minimum free for someone doing less than $1,000. The proposed changes would "take the burden off the people who can probably least afford it," he said.
The law covered flea markets, antique shows, gun shows and other functions all over the state.
Bond said that Lucille Maurer (D-Mont.) and Patrick T. Welch (D-Balt.) have indicated they may introduce similar bills in the House of Delegates. "I'm very optimistic about its chances," said Bond.