UPPER MARLBORO—The Prince George’s County Council voted unanimously against recommending a prohibition on automated purchasing machines in the county because of questions about whether or not it even has authority to regulate them. Despite the Council’s vote, according to a state Senate Bill 382 passed in the 2014 General Assembly session, “the state preempts the […]
UPPER MARLBORO—The Prince George’s County Council voted unanimously against recommending a prohibition on automated purchasing machines in the county because of questions about whether or not it even has authority to regulate them.
Despite the Council’s vote, according to a state Senate Bill 382 passed in the 2014 General Assembly session, “the state preempts the right of a county or municipality to regulate automated purchasing machines…and supersedes any laws that exist that would regulate automated purchasing machines.”
“If (the state law) says we cannot regulate, then that’s a problem,” Councilman Eric Olson said. “It sounds like the bill drafters did a little bit of a shoddy job. We’ve got to get that tightened up.”
Olson said he does not oppose automated purchasing machines, but he believes the county should do their due diligence when thinking about where they can and cannot go.
Automated purchasing machines allow citizens to sell old, unused items for immediate cash return. For example, citizens would be able to sell their old cell phones for cash using the machines.
Citizens would need to be identified before selling the item and would have to go through a verification process, but Maj. Jason Johnson of the Prince George’s County Police Department said the verification process is not foolproof.
Johnson said the police department has not taken a stance on the issue, but they do have concerns about automated purchase machines in the county.
“Automatic purchase machines buy personal property without human interaction between the buyer, seller and the purchaser,” Johnson said.
The measures the machines take to identify the seller are not foolproof, Johnson said, and the police department is concerned criminals may not be identified when selling stolen goods.
Before making any decision on the bill, Olson said, he would like for the county to get more clarification from the state on the law pertaining to county regulation of automated purchasing machines.
Council Chairman Mel Franklin said he agreed with Olson and believes the council has to do some more investigating before they make any decisions regarding automated purchasing machines. Franklin called the state law ambiguous and said it was too risky for the council to allow them in the county right now.
“I think, if you look at state legislation, it says that counties are prohibited from regulating,” Franklin said. “It then creates an exception with that preemption too, as it says one is licensing them and one in prohibiting them.”
Councilwoman Andrea Harrison said neighboring jurisdictions such as Montgomery County and Baltimore County rejected automated purchasing machines, which she thinks raises a red flag for the County Council.
“When our neighbors don’t want it and they have outlawed it, to all of a sudden send it over to us, that gives me concern,” Harrison said. “And I’m sure that all of my colleagues here are concerned.”
Harrison said allowing the automated purchasing machines in the county right now would put the council in a bad place and opens up the possibility for lawsuits.
“We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t,” Harrison said. “We don’t care for second hand dealers. Everything that surrounds it, in the past, has caused us a lot of problems and the police department a lot of problems. This is something else that the police may have to deal with.”
Sean Malone of ecoATM, the parent company of the machines, said the state bill was introduced because there was no regulation in Baltimore City and Baltimore county.
Vendors would have to get a license at the state level, Malone said, and then come to Prince George’s County and request to set an automated purchasing machine up within the county.
Malone said the state law is not ambiguous.
“You would get to determine the installation, the operation and the licensing locally,” Malone said. “We have to go through a dual process, but we wanted to be regulated. You have that authority. It’s clear. It’s expressed. It’s not ambiguous. If you have one of your members of your state delegation request a letter from the attorney general’s office with regard to the interpretation of this, I am confident this issue will be resolved for you.”