BREAKING NEWS

BREAKING NEWS

Loosened liquor laws now include home deliveries

The scope of the rule changes leave some questioning how well the public was notified

In addition to eliminating dry hours for alcohol sales at retail stores and hotels, the Maui County Liquor Commission approved rule changes allowing home delivery of alcoholic beverages and removing the more than three-decade-old cap on the number of hostess bars in the county.

The actions taken by the commission during its February and March meetings have raised questions about whether the public was provided adequate notice and opportunity to comment on the significant changes to the Liquor Commission rules. An attorney with the state Office of Information Practices said Thursday that while the agency would need a complaint to open a formal investigation, the agendas posted for the meetings on the commission’s website appeared to lack sufficient detail to comply with the state Sunshine Law.

“It should have enough information that a member of the public interested in testifying has enough information to do that,” staff attorney Carlotta Amerino said.

Liquor department officials, including Director Glenn Mukai, said they could not speak to the media and referred all inquiries to County Communications Director Rod Antone.

“No matter what the rule changes are, all licensees are still subject to the same laws as before,” Antone said Thursday. “You can’t sell to anyone visibly intoxicated, you can’t sell to anyone under the age of 21 and all licensees are subject to inspection by the liquor department at any time, so all that still applies.”

The new rules were adopted during the commission’s Feb. 8 meeting and signed into law by Mayor Alan Arakawa on Feb. 21. Minor amendments to the new rules were adopted at the March 8 hearing.

While the commission and Mukai have characterized the rule changes as “mostly housekeeping,” the new laws appear to have far-reaching effects on buyers, sellers and distributors of alcoholic beverages in the county.

Retail stores, such as supermarkets and liquor stores, and hotels may now sell alcohol 24 hours a day. The old law only allowed the sale, service and consumption of liquor from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for retailers. Hotels were allowed to serve from 6 a.m. to 4 a.m. with a two-hour blackout period and covered things such as room service, but not hotel bars and restaurants, which operate under a different license and rules.

Residents also may place orders for alcoholic beverages on store websites or by telephone. Retailers can deliver the liquor to private residences or businesses as long as the customer who signs for the delivery is at least 21 years old and is not under the influence of liquor or drugs at the time of delivery.

Last call at restaurants, clubs and bars remains 2 a.m. but, under the new rules, they can begin pouring again at 6 a.m., instead of the previous 8 a.m. Cabarets also were allowed to begin pouring again at 6 a.m. and retained their 4 a.m. last call.

Another major change approved by the commission removed the cap on the number of hostess bars in the county. There had been a limit of 12 hostess bars, which Arakawa upheld in 2012 when he rejected the commission’s attempt to lift the cap.

The limit on the number of hostess bars was put in place in the early 1990s, spearheaded by former Mayor Hannibal Tavares, a long-time critic of hostess bars.

Other changes approved by the commission include:

* Allowing manufacturers and wholesalers to operate 24 hours.

* Allowing brewpubs to operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. with off-premises sales between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

* Allowing caterers to operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

* Allowing wineries to operate 24 hours for manufacturing and wholesale operations and from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for off-premises retail sales and on-premises wine-tasting activities.

* Licensees not being able to sell more than two drinks for a fixed price.

* Licensees having to post their license for viewing for inspection on premises.

* Requiring all licensees to post signs for customers explaining the consequences of drunken driving.

In addition to the Sunshine Law issues, there were questions about the department’s efforts to notify licensees of the changes. Hotel and retail store managers interviewed Wednesday were unaware of the actions of the commission last month.

When asked about whether licensees were notified of the changes, Antone replied that all licensees were issued a notice of the proposed changes Jan. 4 by the department. The notice provided a link to the proposed amendments on the department’s website.

Based on agenda and minutes posted on the commission’s website, it appears that the panel began discussing the rule changes as early as June, the same month that Mukai took his position as director. He replaced the retiring Frank Silva after an eight-month selection process by the commission — lengthened by complaints over Sunshine Law violations.

The commission originally picked current commission member Dana Souza as Silva’s replacement but ran afoul of the Sunshine Law by not putting the possible selection on the meeting agenda. The commission ended up revoting for Souza at a subsequent meeting, but he declined the position.

Mukai was named director following a more formal selection process.

As for public notices of the rule changes, Antone said Wednesday that a legal notice was published in The Maui News on Jan. 6, 30 days before the public hearing, in accordance to state law.

Amerino had a different take, saying that agencies must describe the changes in rules or laws in sufficient detail on the meeting agenda. She said some agencies have hundreds of rule changes, which are attached to the agenda.

The agenda for the Feb. 8 meeting on the rule changes simply says: “Proposed amendments to the Rules of the Liquor Commission, County of Maui, relating to Title 08, Chapter 101, Rules Governing the Manufacture, and Sale of Intoxicating Liquor of the County of Maui.”

No details of the changes were provided and the proposed rules were not attached to the agenda.

Amerino said that if she had seen the agenda before it was filed, she would have advised the commission to provide more detail on the significant changes.

Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center, reviewed the agenda and minutes of the commission dating back to June 8 and said that the agenda alone is insufficient for a member of the public to know what the amendments entail.

“Even if the public hearing notice was disseminated adequately for the Feb. 8 agenda, that does not fix all of the problems with insufficient agenda topics in the prior meetings leading up to the final rule-making,” Black said in an email Thursday.

To view the new liquor laws, visit www.mauicounty.gov/1004/RulesLaws.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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