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Group seeks to reverse new liquor regulations

Rally set for today; testimony encouraged at Wednesday meeting

Members of a group opposed to new laws allowing the retail sale of alcohol 24/7 are expected to appear at the Maui County Liquor Control Commission meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Trask Building in Wailuku.

Mayor Alan Arakawa, who signed the measure approved by the commission into law, said Monday that he believes the concerns of the groups opposing the changes to the alcohol laws “should be heard.”

“I think we can all benefit from hearing from both sides,” he said, adding that the decision on a rehearing lies with the liquor commission and not him.

The newly formed Coalition to Repeal 24 Hour Alcohol Sales, a group of law enforcement, youth and substance abuse treatment organizations in the community, is encouraging members to offer testimony at Wednesday’s meeting. County Communications Director Rod Antone said that the commission accepts public testimony at the beginning of the meeting.

The group, formed in the wake of the elimination of the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period for retail sales of alcohol in a February vote by the commission, will be holding a community awareness sign-waving event beginning at 4:30 p.m. today fronting Queen Ka’ahumanu Center at the intersection of Kahului Beach Road and Kane Street. The group will begin assembling at 4 p.m.

The coalition is led by officials with Maui Youth & Family Services, Maui Family Support Services, Maui Economic Opportunity, Pai’a Youth & Cultural Center, Faith Action for Community Equity, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii Chapter, the Family Life Center, the Maui Police Department and State of Hawaii Police Officers Union, said Ashlee Chapman, a leader in the coalition.

Chapman, MYFS underage drinking prevention coalition coordinator, said Monday that the policy change will have “a negative impact on all groups on Maui.”

Homeless people will have easier access to purchase alcohol, those fighting addictions will have more hours of temptation, clerks selling alcohol may face individuals who are violent in the early-morning hours, she explained. Studies indicate that extending alcohol-purchasing hours leads to more fights, domestic violence and sexual assault.

The coalition is seeking a repeal of the rule change, approved at a commission meeting Feb. 8 and signed into law by Arakawa on Feb. 21. It is asking residents to express their opposition by calling the liquor commission and liquor department Deputy Director Mark Honda and to attend Wednesday’s meeting, Chapman said.

There are questions about whether the commission met Sunshine Law public notice requirements for the February meeting during which the commission made the rule changes. Kihei resident Madge Schaefer has filed a complaint with the state Office of Information Practices over the sparse and unclear terminology used for the agenda item for the rule changes.

The line for the rule changes in the Feb. 8 agenda cited only proposed amendments to “Title 08, Chapter 101, Rules Governing the Manufacture, and Sale of Intoxicating Liquor.” It did not say anything specifically about the rule changes.

Antone said Monday that county attorneys are looking at the Sunshine Law complaint and indicated that they have not yet responded to the Office of Information Practices.

The decision by the commission also eliminated the blackout periods for hotels to sell alcohol for activities such as room service (but not bars) and the cap on the number of hostess bars in the county. The commission also allowed home delivery of alcohol.

Last call at restaurants, clubs and bars remains at 2 a.m., but the commission allowed those establishments to begin serving again at 6 a.m., two hours earlier than under the old rules.

Arakawa said that when he signed the laws “I was assured that they went through the proper process.” “But if some groups feel they did not have a chance to weigh in on the matter, I have no problem with the Department of Liquor Control redoing their commission meetings,” the mayor said.

He pointed out that the liquor commission is a semi-autonomous organization and that it “is up to them” if they want to revisit the rule changes.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.