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Committee guts measure to limit ticket surcharges

A Baltimore City Council bill that would have capped ticket surcharges at a percentage of the box office price was changed Tuesday to allow licensed ticket vendors to set the rate freely.

“These amendments are basically a new bill,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who was the only committee member to vote against the amendments in the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee.

The bill’s sponsor, Councilman Carl Stokes, is not on the committee.

Stokes introduced the measure early last month in response to a 2012 ruling by the state’s highest court in a class action lawsuit against Ticketmaster/Live Nation Entertainment Inc. The Court of Appeals held that the challenged surcharges violated a 1949 city ordinance, which limited such charges to 50 cents.

Stokes’ original bill would have instituted a tiered system, with the amount of the surcharge capped at 15 percent of the first $50 of the box office price, then 10 percent of the next $100, and 5 percent of any amount over $150.

Under that system, “the surcharge on a $100 ticket couldn’t be more than $12.50,” Stokes said.

After the hearing, Councilman Robert Curran, who voted for the amendments, said an unlimited surcharge gave the city a competitive advantage since promoters won’t want to come to a city where they can’t make money.

But Stokes disagreed.

“The advantage is only to the profiteers,” he said. “[The committee] is doing the lobbyists’ bidding.”

The hearing was well attended, with dozens of people — mostly wearing dark suits — crowding into the room on the fourth floor of City Hall.

Clarke complained that she never even saw the amendments until that morning.

“None of us got to work on drafting the amendments,” said committee Chairman James B. Kraft, in a hearing that sometimes became testy.

When a committee member asked the audience if they were in favor of the amendment, almost all of those in suits raised their hands; when asked who was against, Marceline White—executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition—was the only person to respond.

“I think a 20 percent cap fee [would have been] reasonable,” White said. She added that when she examined other cities with similar caps, it “wasn’t a factor” in obtaining business, an observation Stokes agreed with.

Stokes’ bill also would have prohibited scalping, a section that was repealed entirely with the amendments.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the amended bill on July 15.

Stokes called the amended bill “disappointing” and said he believes it will easily pass.

“Of course, the committee gutted the bill,” he said.