The Prince George's County Council proposed legislation this week to regulate and license the towing industry in the wake of a controversy over the practices by some tow truck operators in the county.
The new legislation - proposed by Council Member Gerard T. McDonough - would place the Consumer Protection Commission in charge of regulating the industry and would require tow truck operations to pay $50 for towing licenses. Towing licenses presently are not issued in the county.
"I think the towing industry has had more than enough time to police itself. Now we are going to crack down," said Council Member Francis B. Francois, who added his support to the bill.
Legislation to regulate towing companies has been considered intermittently by council members since 1971, according to McDonough, who said that tow truck firms have been able to fight regulation up to this point. Recent publicity about towing practices and a confrontation between Prince George's officials over another county towing ordinance helped revive the regulatory legislation.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Arthur Marshall said last week that the ordinance, which goes into effect March 1 and allows tow truck operators to impound cars with only the permission of managers of apartment buildings where they are parked, violates state law. Marshall said he would prosecute any tow truck operator who towed - without the owner's consent - legally or illegally parked cars in apartment complexes.
The county council's legislative officer, Lionell M. Lockhart, charged that Marshall has interpreted the Maryland transportation laws too narrowly, and council administrator Kenneth V. Duncan said he planned to meet with Marshall to seek "an understanding of what the new law does and doesn't do."
County tow truck operators also have come under attack because they towed as many as 13,000 cars last year, and many car owners claimed that their cars were legally parked.
Council member David G. Hartlove Jr., indicating that he also would support the regulatory legislation proposed this week, said, "I don't think this legislation will hurt the towing industry.It will help it. We will be able to get rid of those who are giving the industry a bad name."
The legislation, which will now go to committee and then to a public hearing, could be enacted as early as March 1, said McDonough.
McDonough said his proposed legislation would also require towing companies to carry liability insurance for the cars they impound and make the firms subject to investigation by the county department of licenses and permits before they become licensed.
The bill, designed to "safeguard the public interests against fraud, discrimination, deception," will pinpoint the unethical tow truck companies, McDonough said.
"Once we get rid of those who have abused their privileges, most of the problem will be solved," he said.
"Now we have public opinion behind us. I think this legislation will pass," McDonough said.
A representative from one county tow truck company said the proposed regulatory legislation could be a very good bill for many tow truck operations in the county.
"We really are public servants. If the county makes the new law reasonably for legitimate operators, then I am all for it," said a spokesman for Charlie's Towing in Landover.