ANNAPOLIS — Delegate Samuel C. Linton, D-Charles County, reached into a paper bag Thursday and pulled out a crystal ball.
The House Commerce and Government Matters Committee members burst into laughter, but the bill titled “Charles County – Palm Readers, Fortunetellers, and Soothsayers – Licensing,” is serious business to fortunetellers who are fighting burdensome regulations.
Miss Stella, who’s been the only soothsayer in Charles County for years, wouldn’t comment on the bill, but Linton and other legislators agreed it is time to clean up the law.
The legislation is part of a larger movement to remove antiquated laws governing the business of fortunetelling in Maryland. In the state’s U.S. District Courts two cases await hearings; both assert that local laws banning fortunetelling are unconstitutional.
The bill, sponsored by the Charles County delegation, would repeal a 43- year-old law that requires fortunetellers, palm readers and soothsayers to pay an annual $250 fee and go before the Board of County Commissioners for a license renewal.
The only business the law regulates is Miss Stella’s. The red and white sign in front of her business advertises her as a reader of palms, crystal balls and tarot cards. She operates from a small, white house along U.S. Highway 301, surrounded by bare trees and across the parking lot from three furniture stores.
The law governing the fortuneteller’s presence predates most zoning requirements, said Charles County Attorney Roger Fink. The county’s commissioners support repealing the law.
Other old laws regulating fortunetelling businesses are still valid in other Maryland counties. Two fortunetellers are protesting bans on the business in Harford and Montgomery Counties.
In the Harford case, Monica Mitchell, 19, has filed suit to force the county and the City of Aberdeen to allow her to open a fortunetelling business.
The laws in Harford, Charles and other counties stem from a 1904 Maryland code passed to regulate gypsies and nomads, said Harold D. Norton, Mitchell’s lawyer.
In the 1960s, the law was altered to include fortunetelling bans and regulations, said Norton, a lawyer with Brown, Brown and Brown in Harford.
“They may have been passed without a whole lot of thought,” Norton said.
The theory behind the laws is consumer protection.
“A fortuneteller preys on vulnerability. They tell a woman that her money is cursed, and she has to get rid of it, and she gives it to the fortuneteller,” Norton said.
Current consumer protection laws are written to deal with the kind of fraud that could be committed by a fortuneteller, he said.
In Charles County, Linton said the bill before the General Assembly is written to get rid of the old law. But, he’s not ruled out bringing it back if the county attracts an undue number of fortunetellers or the current business becomes a nuisance. In the meantime he quips, “I can go hang up a crystal ball.” – 30 – CNS1-31-02