- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

Hotel operators in one of Maryland's most popular resort towns are bracing for what they fear may be the worst infestation of "June bugs," the hospitality industry's not-so-affectionate nickname for the rowdy high school and college students who descend on the beaches when classes let out.
"I think this summer we'll see the worst damage we've ever seen," said Allison Stine, general manager of Ocean City's Princess Bayside Hotel.
Miss Stine and other hoteliers are frustrated with a campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken up the cause of teen-agers turned away by hotels turned off by vandalism, noise and around-the-clock shenanigans.
"The ACLU has sent a message to young people that any hotel will take their business," she said.
The ACLU first weighed in on summer break two years ago, filing complaints against 22 Ocean City hotels after parents complained that some places refused to rent rooms to their teen-age children.
Citing a state law that barred lodging establishments from discriminating against any traveler who could pay for public accommodations, the ACLU requested an investigation by the Maryland Human Relations Commission into hotel room-rental policies.
The commission still is investigating, but many Ocean City hotel and motel owners reluctantly have dropped long-standing bans against teens and young adults.
State lawmakers in Annapolis, responding to hoteliers, passed a measure on April 8 that requires any guest younger than 18 to have a parent or guardian rent their room and allowed establishments to charge arbitrary security deposits of up to $500.
But hotel owners, and some legislators, say that is not enough.
The legislation does not apply to guests who are 18 to 21 years old, the age group that creates the biggest problem, lodging operators say.
"The under-18s are generally not as rebellious," said Earla Conner, owner of the Candlelight Hotel and Cayman Suites Hotel. "They don't drink like the 18- to 21-year-olds."
Mrs. Conner said she has rented to young people during the summer for 21 years and enjoys having them as guests. But she wanted more help to protect her property against damage from 18- to 21-year-olds and was disappointed that a stricter law did not pass.
"Most [young people] are very nice. But when they do come and tear a room up, we lose a lot of money," she said.
One of the few ways to recoup those costs is to charge security deposits. But Maryland law makes age a protected class, and hotels that require one guest to pay a deposit must require all guests to do so to avoid engaging in discrimination.
Hotel owners said this was bad for business, promising either to insult or scare away older guests.
An amendment to the bill that would have applied to guests ages 18 to 21 passed in the Senate 41-1, but it was opposed by some House members, including Delegate William Cole IV, who said it opened the door to discrimination.
"I don't want someone to have a choice to say, 'This person doesn't look responsible,'" said Mr. Cole, Baltimore Democrat.
Mr. Cole said he supported the law as it was passed, because those younger than 18 did not have the same protections as legal adults.
Some larger hotels continue to refuse lodging to those younger than 21. Ocean City Comfort Inns state on a Web site it will not rent rooms unless at least one guest is 21 or older.
Mr. Cole and the ACLU called this age discrimination. A Comfort Inn general manager could not be reached for comment, but the corporate office said the company encourages its chains to "abide by the law."
Adam Showell, owner of the Castle in the Sand Hotel, seemed unconvinced by complaints of discrimination.
He said those who want to rent rooms to young people should be allowed to and that those who want to cater to older, wealthier people should have their niche as well.

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