Liquor panel may hear testimony on nonprofit rule

Any action on repeal of recent law changes put off until next month

The Maui County Liquor Commission may hear public comments this month about how the Department of Liquor Control processes permits for one-day fundraising events, while commission action on repealing controversial rules changes has been put off until July at the earliest.

The single-day permit matter isn’t specifically referred to in the commission’s June 7 agenda, but an item listing the director’s monthly report may be “close enough to allow public testimony,” according to Deputy Corporation Counsel Edward Kushi Jr.

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the liquor department’s conference room in the David Trask Building in Wailuku.

Last week, the Maui Non-Profit Directors Association began circulating a petition among its members, protesting what it says is a procedural change in the way the Liquor Department handles permits to sell alcohol for one-day events. According to the petition, the new procedure jeopardizes nonprofits’ fundraising efforts. That’s because it requires extensive background checks and fingerprinting of all board members and officers of nonprofits seeking a Class 10 “Special License” to hold an event at a private home or another venue without a license to sell and serve alcohol daily.

The petition says the procedure previously allowed nonprofits to identify an event and their key officers. The new procedure also requires disclosure of board members’ employment since age 18 and any traffic tickets more than $25.

Deputy Liquor Department Director Mark Honda said that to his knowledge the department had not officially received the petition as of Wednesday.

Kushi said that no commission action would be taken on the procedure even if testifiers bring up the matter.

Maui Non-Profit Directors Association President Debbie Cabebe, who disseminated the petition via email, said on Wednesday that she did not have any updates on the petition. She said those involved with the petition will meet next week.

Meanwhile, a public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 12, also at the Trask Building to address repealing controversial rule changes that allow 24-hour retail sales of alcohol and the removal of a cap on the number of hostess bars in Maui County.

The commission could take action on repealing the rule changes at the July meeting or it could announce another date for action, Kushi said in an email.

The hearing comes after about 50 people affected by drunken driving and alcohol abuse testified before the commission last month to ask the panel to rescind the new liquor rules on 24-hour sales and hostess bars. A special meeting held May 10 and 11 was in response to a petition submitted by Wailuku resident Mahina Martin, a founding member of the Coalition to Repeal 24 Hour Alcohol Sales. She and others want to repeal the rule changes adopted Feb. 8 and signed into law by Mayor Alan Arakawa on Feb. 21.

At its May meeting, the commission unanimously voted to reconsider its decision on the rules. Members of the public have questioned the reasoning behind the changes.

The petition asks the commission to reinstate the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period for retail alcohol sales, reinstitute the cap of 12 hostess bars in the county and disallow home delivery of alcohol.

“It was so touching to see our community come out last month to share personal stories and their own concerns with the nine commissioners. We are all hoping that these real-life experiences, statistics and insights from families, law enforcement agencies, youth, businesses and social service professionals will convince the commissioners to cast their votes on July 12 in favor of repealing key parts of the new rules they put in place in February,” Martin said Wednesday.

She said she appreciates that the commission is moving toward taking a vote on the matter, but she said “sooner is better” and had hoped for action at the panel’s June meeting.

“If the commission votes to make the changes I had proposed in July, the effective date would likely be in August. Seven months may not seem like a long time for an unpopular law to exist, but tell that to someone who might be affected by it within those months,” Martin said.

She cited drunken driving cases and fatalities that could happen because of the rule changes and the operational changes that retailers need to make in the meantime to accommodate the 24-hour retail sales.

Kushi said that, depending when the commission acts on a rule change, the amendments then would need to be reviewed and adopted by Arakawa. Then, they’d be transmitted to the County’s Clerk’s office for filing. The effective dates of the changes would be 10 days after the county clerk receives them.

As the Liquor Commission handles the amendments to the rule changes, a lawsuit stemming from the same matter continues in 2nd Circuit Court.

On May 5, Kihei resident Madge Schaefer and the Committee for Responsible Liquor Control filed a lawsuit claiming the commission violated the Sunshine Law and the Hawaii Administrative Procedure Act “by failing to give the public proper notice that they were going to take action on these radical policy changes,” they said.

The lawsuit had to be filed at the time because Sunshine Law challenges must be lodged within 90 days of a decision, said attorney Lance Collins, who is representing Schaefer and the committee. If they prevail, the court could invalidate the commission’s actions.

On Wednesday, Schaefer and Collins said work to resolve the litigation was ongoing.

• Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS