Bill Targets Public Health Risk by Outlawing Sale of Used Undergarments


ANNAPOLIS (March 30, 2010)—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.

But don't freak out, yet.

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

"It's kind of ridiculous when you think about it," Delegate 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," said Braveboy.

The issue was first 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 several retailers at a mall in New Jersey.

At first, Braveboy assumed there was already a law against it in Maryland. But there wasn't, and 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 disgusted 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," Delegate 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 Delegate Hattie Harrison, D-Baltimore.

Saquella said that no one was condoning the practices that triggered the bill, which 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."

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

And 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."

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.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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