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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/26/2008

On the Agenda for Nov. 17

Bill 08-0231 Health--Smoking on or Adjacent to Hospital Premises. Would impose a $50 fine for smoking in any area adjacent to any hospital. The no-smoking area includes alleys, sidewalks, and adjacent grounds "extending to the closest curb line." These areas should be posted by the hospital as "no smoking" zones, but there is no provision for enforcement of signage.

The read: "I don't think this will be as contentious as the last issue this councilman tried to get through two years ago," said Councilman Robert Curran (3rd District), speaking of the indoor-smoking ban for restaurants and bars. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) spoke in support of the ban on smoking near hospitals, but urged caution: "We don't want to displace smoking to neighborhoods surrounding a given hospital, which has happened in my district," she said.

Bill 08-0232 Charge Cards--Protection of Account Number. This would prohibit business establishments from keeping any records containing more than the final four digits of a customer's credit-card number.

The Read: Maryland has long been a hotbed of identity theft and credit-card fraud, but there are already laws in place to prevent the theft of an errant card receipt. Since 2006 state law has prohibited merchants from keeping more than eight digits of a given credit card, and a federal law passed in 2003, called the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), has since 2006 limited receipts to the last five digits on a card. FACTA does, however, allow merchants to keep more complete records, so long as the information is secure. The city bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (7th District), would prohibit that.

Bill 08-0233 Towing Services--Licensing and Regulation. This bill increases the fine for rogue towing activity to $1,000. It would also require tow services working on behalf of private parking lots to photographically document a violation before towing and provide the photos to the car owner before demanding payment.

The Read: This time, apparently, it's personal. "I was quite surprised that you could be towed for being over the line," said Conaway, the bill's sponsor. "I was quite mind-blowed." During the council meeting, Conaway told her colleagues that she had to pay a $200 fee to a towing company that could not actually prove she had parked outside the lines. "They should be required to have proof," she said. "Right now it's just their word against yours."

The council also passed resolutions asking the state legislative delegation to pass state laws. 08-0088R wants to "eliminate disparities in the amount charged for car insurance" by forbidding the insurance companies from charging more to city residents. 08-0089R asks the delegation to reintroduce restrictive regulations on "alcopops," sweet and boozy stuff like Mike's Hard Lemonade that kids dig. Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) asked for an "education rights amendment to the United States Constitution."

"Capital One likes to say 'What's in Your Wallet?' I like to know who's in mine."
--Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, introducing a bill to further limit the information on credit-card receipts and merchant records.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.

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