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No more ‘last call for alcohol’ for some

Retail stores, hotels can now sell spirits 24 hours a day; rule change caught many in the business unaware

WAILUKU — Alcohol can now be purchased 24 hours a day at retail stores and hotels across Maui County — the first county in Hawaii to eliminate restrictions on the hours of sale.

The rules were approved by the county Liquor Control Commission at its Feb. 8 and March 8 meetings and signed into law by Mayor Alan Arakawa earlier this month. They allow liquor licensees, such as supermarkets and liquor stores, to sell alcohol past the former 11 p.m. deadline.

Many store and hotel managers were unaware of the new law when contacted Wednesday and were unsure how they would react to the change. Supporters of the change called it necessary and overdue, while police and community members were left baffled.

“I don’t see anything positive with establishments serving alcohol later at night,” said Lt. William Gannon, commander of the police Traffic Section, on Wednesday.

The old laws only allowed for 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.

The new law removes the time restrictions for retailers and hotels, as well as for manufacturers and wholesalers, who previously could only perform their work between 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Carol McNamee, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii, said she was unaware of the rule changes and “extremely surprised” the liquor commission would remove the time restrictions.

“It seems to fly in the face of good public policy to reduce drunk driving and therefore keep Maui’s roads and highways as safe as possible,” McNamee said. “This is very disturbing and very unhealthy for the safety of the community.”

The fact that McNamee and licensees were unaware of the rule changes raised questions about whether the Liquor Control Commission offered proper notice to the public about the changes and whether the public had a fair opportunity to testify.

Glenn Mukai, director of the liquor department, has characterized the rule changes as “mostly housekeeping.” In minutes from the commission’s Feb. 8 meeting, Mukai acknowledged the lifting of the time restrictions for retail stores at the end of the meeting.

“They’re open 24 hours, but come 11 p.m., they have to shut down,” Mukai said. “And so they’re requesting the retailers to operate 24 hours, so we put it in the proposed rules.”

Mukai, who has been accessible to the media in the past, declined an interview through intermediary, Deputy Director Mark Honda. The deputy director said that Mukai could not speak to the media Wednesday due to county policy and referred all inquiries to county Communications Director Rod Antone.

Antone said that a notice of the amendments were published in The Maui News, 30 days before the public hearing, which is in accordance to state law.

The mayor signed the measure into law, agreeing with the liquor department that the rule changes would be beneficial to the community, Antone said.

The rule changes were reviewed by a small business advisory committee organized by the liquor department. The committee included representatives from various licensee classes from restaurants to manufacturers.

One of the committee members Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, backed the elimination of the time limitations on liquor sales.

“The committee as a whole, looked at a lot of things and ways to make it a little simpler for businesses to operate and make guest experience better,” Paulson said Wednesday.

One of the leading requests from her membership of more than 175 hotels and businesses was to eliminate the two-hour window of no alcohol service. Paulson said international visitors regularly check-in to hotels after late night flights and are confused as to why they are not able to buy alcohol during the 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period.

For retailers, she recalled another advisory panel member bringing up fisherman, who were not able to buy alcohol early in the morning before going out to sea. She could not immediately recall any other reasons offered for the extended hours for retail stores.

Manufacturers and wholesalers will benefit from the rule change, which allows them to distribute alcohol in the middle of the night and lessen traffic on the road, Paulson said.

She appreciated that Mukai and the department had an “open dialogue” with licensees, which helped usher in the changes.

“A lot of those laws were written a very long time ago so it’s very good to review things,” she said.

Paulson declined to comment specifically on concerns over increased drunken driving and accidents and public drunkenness as a result of the rule changes, but noted that there was a public hearing.

No one testified against the extended hours rule change at the Feb. 8 hearing.

Maui County is “leading the way” as the first in the state to allow a 24-hour liquor license, Paulson said. Honolulu and Hawaii counties restrict retailers from selling alcohol past 11 p.m. and midnight, respectively. Both counties also restrict hotels from serving alcohol from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

Wailuku attorney Dave Jorgensen, who represents many liquor licensees, said many of the changes were necessary and that he appreciated the department’s work. He said the changes give more power to retailers and hotels over their operations, scheduling and service.

“It’s a big change, but in my mind it’s a good thing,” Jorgensen said.

Many establishments affected by the changes were unaware.

Robin Truxal, manager of the Maui Lani Safeway, said he did not know about the rule changes and did not know if the store would sell alcohol throughout its 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. store hours. He said the store’s computer system does not allow for liquor sales after 11 p.m. and a decision to extend liquor sales hours is not done at the store level.

“It’s a sensitive subject,” Truxal said, adding that the store will keep an eye on what other retailers do.

Some liquor stores have timed their closing to the previous 11 p.m. restriction, including Aloha Liquor on Lower Main Street in Wailuku. The store’s owner, who declined to be identified, said she and her husband would have to make sure the store was closed by the deadline to stay clear of violations.

The owner was unaware of the rule changes but was happy to have the option to stay open later and not to have to rush to close. While most of her business comes during rush hour after work, the store sees a steady flow Friday and Saturday nights.

Minit Stop also has computer systems timed to prevent alcohol sales past 10:45 p.m., in accordance to the old law, said a manager of the Lower Main Street store, who wished to remain anonymous. The stores generally close at 11 p.m.

Law enforcement officials were not supportive of the change. The majority of near fatal and fatal crashes occur during the early hours of the day and providing access to alcohol “around the clock” could increase serious crashes, Gannon said.

“Any time you support alcohol and that type of behavior people tend to make when they’re intoxicated — I would expect to see an increase in impaired driving,” he said.

Gannon said he would not have supported the rule changes and feels they will have far reaching negative affects on adults and youths. He said alcohol abuse can lead to fights, property crimes, domestic violence and other destructive behavior.

“It exposes a lot of negativity in all directions,” he said.

Still, the department is ready should their be increases in drunken driving and other crimes due to alcohol use.

“We are prepared,” he said. “We don’t anticipate things to get out of control, per say, because of this, but we have officers available should we see a significant increase as it relates to impaired driving,” he said.

McNamee worries that the Maui County law will open the door for other counties to make similar changes. She said her organization has fought hard to restrict the sale of liquor late at night.

Maui used to have a MADD representative but has not had one for several years as funding for the organization has declined, McNamee said. This has impacted its influence with liquor commissions in each county.

“We’ve always worked with liquor commissions” but currently lack staff to lobby and drive home the point about the dangers of driving while under the influence of alcohol, she said.

“We’re all in it together. That’s what’s so surprising to me. This is a very surprising move,” McNamee said.

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