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Bill targets public health risk from sale of used underwear

ANNAPOLIS — Sometimes the stuff everyone thinks should be against the law, well, isn’t.

For instance, Maryland retailers can legally place used underwear back on the racks and sell it as new.

A bill working its way through both chambers of the General Assembly would change that, making it illegal for retailers to sell undergarments and bathing suits that have been sold and returned.

“It’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it,” Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, said Tuesday.

“The reality is, it’s happening. There’s no law against it,” Braveboy said.

The issue was brought to Braveboy’s attention by a constituent, who’d seen a hidden-camera report on NBC’s “Today” show that exposed the practice at a New Jersey mall.

The practice poses serious health risks because it can easily spread infections.

“This is a sound public health bill, as it will help mitigate the spread of bacteria and certain sexually transmitted diseases, particularly … pubic lice,” Erin Bradley of the Prince George’s County Health Department told the House Economic Matters Committee Tuesday.

The squirm-inducing committee hearing, which included a video of the “Today” show report, drew groans and giggles from the witness gallery, particularly as an on-camera doctor described the viruses, fungi and bacteria that could be lurking in the supposedly new clothing.

“Move favorable,” Del. Donna Stifler, R-Harford, quipped, facetiously suggesting that the committee should approve the bill right away, before the remaining witnesses could even testify.

The lone voice of opposition came from Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, who was greeted with gentle teasing as he prepared to give his testimony.

“I know your wife,” warned Del. Hattie Harrison, D-Baltimore.

Saquella said the practices that triggered the bill were “indefensible.”

“Our concern about the bill is some of the wording,” Saquella said. “It’ll probably force retailers to make all sales final. Most consumers would not react well to that.”

The bill does not apply to secondhand or thrift stores that specifically deal in used merchandise, or to items that are sold in sealed packages and returned unopened. Bathing suit tops that are sold separately from the bottoms are also exempt.

Saquella pledged that the Maryland Retailers Association would continue to work with Braveboy to reach a solution.

Despite the jovial tone of the hearing, Harrison encouraged those present to remember that the legislation did address a serious issue, if not for themselves, then for their family.

“You have daughters, also,” Harrison said. “Remember that.”