The Prince George's County Council voted 9 to 0 this week to regulate and license the county towing industry.
The proposed ordinance, which would become effective Oct. 1 if signed by the county's executive, follows several years of controversial practices by some some county towing companies that have resulted in outlandish towing costs and abusive practices, according to county Councilman Gerard T. McDonough, who proposed the bill.
The bill requires all county towing firms to be licensed annually by the Department of Licenses and Permits after the department reviews the applicant's insurance, inspects his storage facilities and tow trucks, and checks whether the applicant has a criminal record.
"It's no overnight cure for the problem, but it will provide a vehicle to clean up some of the bad acts out there," said mcDonough.
He added that the new law resulted from citizen protest and media coverage.
"We had discussed the possibility of regulating the industry but it was the controversy that spurred the resolution. The towing industry realized it was going to happen."
Under the law, each towing firm will be required to submit to the county licensing department a price list that cannot be change without formal notification. The list must include charges for towing as well as daily storage.
The law provides regulations for towing at the owner's requiest and for situations where persons other than the owner requests towing. The latter, for instance, would cover such situations as a car that is illegally parked in an area such as an apartment parking lot.
If towed at the owner's request, tow trucker operation will be required to give car owners an itemized bill, showing what services are to be performed and the exact cost for each service, before the can be towed. The form must include the name of the towing company.
The law also will place a ban on towing any car more than 20 miles away from its last location; it will force towing companies to provide a one-hour delay on storage charges when the car is moved without the owner's or operator's consent, and will require tow companies to notify the county police department within an hour whenever a car is towed.
"This law will be good for the industry because it will help reduce the spillover of compaints created by the small segment that has created problems for the rest of the industry," said McDonough.
In other action, the County Council voted 9 to 0 to create a law enabling the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission to acquire the Suburban Trust property on Main Street in Upper Marlboro to pave the way for the redesign of the county seat.
The council action is the first step toward getting the plans for the Upper Marlboro Mall of the drawing board and into reality in the 1980s.