Sunday, November 29, 2009

Great use of government power, or not

In Montgomery County, there is a law which makes it illegal to sell Christmas trees before December 5th in residential zones. A house of spirit worship (or "church" as such places are known) got popped with a violation last year, and they were informed that the signs advertising the tree sale were illegal as well. As an admission that the law is stupid, the $500 fine was waived.

This is such a typical illustration of government stupidity. I love it!

It turned out the good folks at North Bethesda United Methodist were in violation of a little-known county law that prohibits Christmas tree sales in residential zones before Dec. 5. Officials were tipped off by an anonymous caller. The inspector also made Scott take down banners that advertised the tree sale because, it turned out, they, too, were illegal. In the spirit of the holidays, however, he didn't levy the $500 fine.

The incident prompted much head-scratching. With the possible exception of the anonymous tipster, no one in county government seemed to realize that such a ban existed. Shortly after last year's shutdown, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) pushed the County Council to repeal the ban.

But nearly a year later, the council has not acted. There was at least one public hearing, but for now, the law remains on the books.

Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who supports lifting the ban, said efforts to repeal the measure were lost in the shuffle of more-important legislative matters.

There was speculation that the law might have been enacted because of safety concerns, and some fire officials said safety was an issue. But the county's chief fire marshal concluded in a memo this year that repealing the law would not "compromise fire safety."

Scott said the church could have waited until Dec. 5 to start selling trees but decided that the idea, like the law, was absurd.