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Bill takes shopping cart theft seriously

ANNAPOLIS — Along with high-profile legislation that would repeal the death penalty and strengthen gun control, Maryland’s General Assembly is considering making it more expensive for people caught stealing shopping carts.

The bill would increase the fine from $25 to $100. It came about when the Montgomery Village Foundation, which represents a Montgomery County community of more than 45,000 residents, asked Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, to do something about the number of shopping carts that were being taken from nearby stores and left strewn throughout the community.

The current law, which was enacted in 1957, requires store owners to post a sign at each exit informing shoppers that there is a $25 fine for taking a shopping cart off store premises without permission.

“Regretfully, theft of our shopping carts is a reality and this would help us a great deal,” said lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who testified on behalf of Safeway Food & Drug. “We have to have a sign up there, and having a new sign saying $100 rather than $25 would hopefully help to be a deterrent.”

Despite the reports of stolen and abandoned carts, a legislative analysis showed there were no cases of shopping cart theft prosecuted in District Court last year.

When the House Judiciary Committee heard the bill Tuesday, there were questions about why the law was on the books in the first place, since the theft of other types of property valued under $1,000 is already punishable by a higher fine.

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just repeal the statute?” Del. Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, said. “Why treat the theft of a cart differently? They’re not having the full extent of the law.”

If the shopping cart statute were repealed, theft of a shopping cart would be included under the state code’s general provision for theft of property. Stealing property valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor with maximum penalties of up to 18 months imprisonment and a fine of up to $500.

It costs merchants between $100 to $300 to replace each shopping cart, Reznik said.

He didn’t seek to repeal the provision because he didn’t think the committee would favor increasing the fine from $25 to up to $500, he said.

“Generally speaking, when you ask for an increase in fines, it is not received well, so you want to take things more piecemeal,” Reznik said. “If the committee is more amenable to a repeal and making it fall under the general theft statute, I’m all for it.”

The bill is cross-filed in the Senate, and the Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to hear SB 191 at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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