- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

MARYLAND

ANNAPOLIS

Signing delayed on ‘alcopops’ bill

Pressured by watchdogs against underage drinking, Gov. Martin O’Malley put off signing a bill yesterday that would allow fruit-flavored alcoholic drinks called alcopops to remain classified as beer instead of liquor for tax purposes.

Mr. O’Malley told reporters that he had intended to sign the measure, which is opposed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other groups that think it would make it cheaper for youths to acquire sweet juicy booze.

“I had a meeting with some of the opponents and had a good talk with them, and I’m going to consider what they’ve said and kind of think on it overnight,” Mr. O’Malley said.

The alcopops name comes from the variety of soda-pop-like flavors that the drinks contain, such as grape and raspberry. They also are known for their hard-liquor kick.

The Maryland attorney general’s office issued a ruling last month classifying alcopops as liquor, not beer. It’s significant for a couple of reasons. First, liquor is taxed at a rate of $1.50 a gallon, and beer is taxed at 9 cents a gallon in Maryland.

Mr. O’Malley said his meeting with opponents has him considering two factors.

“One is the revenue issue,” he told reporters. “The other is the nature of these sorts of products and whether they … are sort of a gateway type of thing and whether we should be taking extra care to restrict their sale or push them away from the reach of underage drinkers.”

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said he supports creating a new taxable category for the drinks.

If the bill isn’t enacted, the attorney general’s office opinion would hold up, unless there were a successful court challenge. Under the opinion, alcopops would be defined as distilled spirits and fall under the higher tax rate.

FREDERICK

County says English is official language

The Frederick County government proclaimed English its official language in a resolution so watered down that its original sponsor voted against it.

The document proclaims English the official, primary and common language of Frederick County government.

But the Board of County Commissioners deleted language proposed by Commissioner Charles Jenkins, a Republican, that would have barred the translation of government documents into other languages.

Mr. Jenkins said the resolution has no force of law and doesn’t change the status quo.

In October, the board defeated another Jenkins proposal to cut some county services to illegal immigrants.

GREENBELT

Jury favors church in land-use trial

Attorneys for a Seventh-day Adventist church say a federal jury found that Prince George’s County discriminated against the church on the basis of religion, hindering attempts to build on land it owned.

Reaching Hearts International bought 17 acres in West Laurel in 2001, where attorneys for the church say a church is a permitted use under zoning laws and says the county blocked efforts to build there.

Attorneys say the jury yesterday found that the county discriminated against Reaching Hearts and burdened its religious exercise. If U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus finds that the county has not met its burden of proving that its actions were the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling governmental interest, then the jury award of $3.7 million to Reaching Heart will be enacted.

Judge Titus will hold another hearing on the matter in September.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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