Liquor commision can do course correction at meeting Wednesday

Viewpoint

On Wednesday, the liquor commission will have an opportunity to do a course correction on rule changes it approved in February.

The changes to laws governing the sale of alcohol in Maui County were characterized as “housekeeping items” and went unnoticed by most in the community. If not for The Maui News alerting the public, we would not have been aware of the seriousness of the commission’s actions.

The more significant rule changes included increasing retail alcohol sales to 24 hours, removing the cap of 12 on the number of hostess bars in our county and gave more opportunity for home deliveries.

Recently, it was discovered that dramatic procedural changes also were done that are now causing hardships to nonprofit organizations in the county. Any nonprofit that needs a one-day license for a special event that includes alcohol, such as a benefit dinner, must have their staff and board members fingerprinted and submit their employment history. They also must submit to a criminal background check, including traffic tickets over $25 since age 18. The department cited state law as the reason for enacting stringent procedures for those nonprofits.

Yet, The Maui News reported that those requirements were optional, according to the state Office of the Attorney General. We also learned that no other Hawaii county puts their nonprofits through such requirements. In fact, it appears that Maui County is the only one with a radical application of rules that do not make any sense. Despite our efforts to understand their actions, we have not found meaningful justifications.

Our community has asked: How does increasing hostess bars, selling alcohol 24 hours and making home deliveries more possible add to our quality of life? Why would getting volunteer board members fingerprinted and background checked for speeding tickets be a necessity?

There’s a reason why the public is feeling insulted, alarmed and disregarded. Of the 200-plus pages of meeting minutes where the new rules were adopted, only a few paragraphs addressed these significant rules changes. There was no consideration as to whether the Police Department was informed, no concern about how retailers were to train their cashiers to identify inebriated customers making purchases, and no effort to get input from the community concerned with drunken driving.

Public notice on such stunning changes was done through a paid ad in the Classifieds section of the newspaper. It is concerning that the public received bare minimum notification of rule amendments that would place increased risks and burdens to the community.

The rule changes were put in place in an imbalanced way. Input from alcohol industry advocates were sought and valued while retailers and agencies were ignored and given less consideration. The adverse effects far outweigh whatever reasons the department has offered to justify the changes.

Our Police Department was caught off guard by the new rules, despite its critical role in public safety. County park rangers were unaware of increased access to alcohol, changes that can contribute to volatile situations at parks and campgrounds. Retail stores were inadequately prepared to offer training to their cashiers working late night shifts to help identify and handle inebriated and potentially disruptive customers seeking to purchase alcohol.

As homeless resource agencies work to address the effects of alcohol, they were unaware of rule changes that make liquor detrimentally available for purchase several more hours each day.

There is no clear and understandable reason for the need to eliminate the cap of 12 hostess bars. The cap has been in existence since the 1980s and the maximum of licensees has not been reached for over a decade. The concerns the community has for an industry that traditionally degrades women and has the potential to subject its employees to servitude or servitude-like arrangements should be considered.

You can offer your opinion to the commission at its 9 a.m. meeting — in the small conference room of the Department of Liquor Control, Trask Building, Kaohu Street in Wailuku. Comments, marked for the commission, may be emailed to liquor@mauicounty.gov.

The commission’s vote Wednesday will determine whether a course correction will come or whether it has decided to stay the course. It’s all up to the nine votes that will occur.

* Mahina Martin is a founding member of the Repeal 24 Hour Retail Alcohol Sales Coalition, a longtime community advocate and a Wailuku resident.

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