Lawsuit against Liquor Commission and director to be heard on Tuesday

VIEWPOINT

Maui Department of Liquor Control Director Glenn Mukai has turned the enforcement of liquor laws into a weapon against an innocent public. In his professed quest to “follow the law” in enforcing liquor laws, he himself has ignored the laws that apply to him. The Liquor Commission has been unresponsive.

He published notice of the Liquor Commission’s February meeting but failed to follow the Sunshine Act with respect to the rule-making part of the meeting. That law requires sufficient detail be provided to let an ordinary person know what rules are being changed and what the proposed changes are. There was no detail regarding permitting home delivery services, 24-hour retail liquor sales or removing the cap on the number of hostess bars. These changes were subsequently referred to during the commission meeting’s short discussion on the rule changes as “housekeeping.”

After an outcry by the community, including the police chief and many community leaders and organizations, and dozens of testifiers at the hearing, the three most offensive rule changes were “repealed”; however, the remaining illegally adopted rules remain.

In addition, Mukai has also established a new set of rules for how the department regulates one-day licenses for nonprofit organization events that serve liquor. No notice was given to the public at all for these changes although it is required by law.

These changes include requiring every board member of a nonprofit organization to submit to complete lifetime background checks, fingerprinting and paying a $25 fee. All volunteers at a one-day event are required to provide their full name and Social Security numbers to the Liquor Control Department two months in advance. Veterans groups, churches and social service providers, among others, are all affected by and subject to these new rules.

Mukai tried to hide behind a law passed 10 years ago by the state Legislature, claiming it was them not him making the change. But the state attorney general has repudiated that claim, noting that it is Mukai’s choice to change the rules on nonprofit events, and his choice is OK so long as he goes through properly noticed rule-making. No other counties in Hawaii are subjecting their nonprofits to these invasive rules.

It should be noted that members of the Liquor Commission do not undergo a background check nor are they fingerprinted. They are presumed to be of good character, a courtesy that has not been extended to nonprofit volunteers and employees. Mukai also did not undergo a background check and fingerprinting.

The new requirements are an insult to the dedicated and hardworking volunteers of nonprofits in our community. An Upcountry minister told me that her church had to cancel their annual live auction/wine-tasting dinner that has previously raised over $10,000 for church maintenance. Everything was donated, including the wine. Under the new rules, hotels can accept donated wine but nonprofit organizations are prohibited from doing so.

The Committee for Responsible Liquor Control and I filed suit against the commission and the liquor director over their violations of our open meetings and transparency in government laws. We have done this reluctantly and continue to hope that the liquor director will come to his senses and spare taxpayers the expense of fighting in court for a cause that is morally and legally wrong. We expect the Liquor Commission members to look at the damage the director is doing to our community in his arrogant disrespect for the law and hold him to account. Ultimately, they are responsible.

The court will be holding a hearing to decide the substantive issues in this case on Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. in Courtroom 1 in Wailuku. I encourage concerned members of the public to attend.

* Madge Schaefer is a founding member of the Committee for Responsible Liquor Control. Both are plaintiffs in this case. She is a resident of Kihei.

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