The scene is familiar: A Marylander buys a case of liquor at a District of Columbia discount store, drives homeward across the state boundary and is signaled to the curb by a tax agent. The buyer ultimately forfeits the liquor, and may also pay a fine.
The D.C. City Council's judiciary committee approved a bill last week that would severely restrict such surveillance of Washington liquor stores by out-of-state tax agents watching for commuters who buy in illegally large quantities. It also would apply to tobacco law enforcers.
If enacted, the measure would require any agent to register every day with the D.C. Police Department and give the locations of any investigations to be made on that day. A violation would be punishable by a $300 fine.
Proposed by the D.C. Liquor Dealers Association the measure was introduced early last year by Council Chairman Sterling Tucker.
It faces formidable opposition ranging from Mayor Walter E. Washington and Corporation Counsel John R. Risher Jr. to tax and police officials from Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.
Judy Rogers, the mayor's special assistant for legislation, said the D.C. police oppose the measure because it would "create ill-will among the District's neighbors, and reduce cooperative efforts" in law enforcement.
In a memorandum supporting the bill, the liquor dealers contended that out-of-state tax agents sometimes harass and abuse store owners, and drive away customers by making them fear being caught with illegal quantities of liquor bought in Washington.
Both Maryland and Virginia send agents into Washington to stake out high-volume liquor stores and watch for violators. Pennsylvania, a state with high liquor prices, sometimes also does so.
The liquor dealers recounted one instance in which someone form Ohio bought neary $500 worth of liquor in Washington and was caught while driving home through Maryland. The liquor was confiscated and the customer stopped payment on his check. The Washington liquor store was the ultimate loser.