Group files suit over liquor rule changes
Kihei resident Madge Schaefer and the Committee for Responsible Liquor Control filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court on Friday seeking the repeal of recent rule changes approved by the Liquor Control Commission that included the removal of blackout periods for the sale of alcohol, allowed home delivery of alcoholic products and removed the cap on the number of hostess bars.
The commission has come under fire for approving the changes on Feb. 8, with Schaefer and others in the community questioning
whether there was proper public notice and comment. Schaefer filed a Sunshine Law complaint against the commission over the notice for the meeting and a group has formed, the Coalition to Repeal 24-Hour Alcohol Sales, to protest the changes. The Coalition consists of law enforcement groups, youth and substance abuse treatment organizations, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and religious officials.
The commission will be taking up a petition calling for repeal of the changes by Wailuku resident Mahina Martin, a founder of the Coalition, at a special meeting on Tuesday and at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday. Both meetings begin at 9 a.m. in the Trask Building in Wailuku.
The commission’s Wednesday agenda says that the panel could initiate a procedure to repeal its February actions or defer or reject the petition.
With a legal deadline approaching, Schaefer and the committee filed the lawsuit against the commission Friday. The committee includes a diverse group including bar owners, government and social service agency workers, ministers and relatives of victims of drunken drivers, Schaefer said Friday.
“The Committee for Responsible Liquor Control is made up of individuals who share concerns about various rule changes,” said a news release by Schaefer and the committee Friday.
She also wanted to make clear that the committee does not include groups officially involved in the Coalition, including MADD, Maui Youth & Family Services and Maui Economic Opportunity Youth Services, and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
The lawsuit had to be filed by Monday 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 actions of the commission.
Schaefer, who is footing the legal bill, said filing the lawsuit, the first ever for her, “wasn’t done lightly.” She believes the commission was betting that she would not sue. In the end, she said she took the plunge to protect the public’s right to know.
The lawsuit claims that 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,” the news release said.
Collins said that a summary of the rule changes was published in The Maui News in January but the agenda posted for the meeting did not offer the same detail. All the agenda item said was “Title 08, Chapter 101, Rules Governing the Manufacture, and Sale of Intoxicating Liquor.”
“They didn’t tell the public what rule changes were going to happen,” Collins said.
Notice is important to allow community members to provide their views and data to an agency before it makes a change to its rules, said the news release.
“The public should be given the opportunity to know, scrutinize and participate in the formation and conduct of that policy, especially where there are radical changes in community standards and effects on public safety and community well-being,” the news release said.
Despite the actions being taken by the commission on the rule changes, both Collins and Schaefer are skeptical that the panel will repeal its February actions, which were signed into law by Mayor Alan Arakawa on Feb. 21.
There is “no evidence that they are actually going to change anything,” said Collins. “There is a big hope.
“Almost everyone in the community thinks this wasn’t done correctly.”
Schaefer said the commission has shown “no good faith” on this issue. While the commission could begin the process of reversing its February actions, the court could rescind the rules for them, she said.
The county has three weeks to answer the complaint. County spokesman Rod Antone said Friday afternoon that the county does not comment on pending litigation.
“It is unfortunate that private citizens have been forced to seek relief through the court system because a public agency has so casually disregarded the people’s right to know,” the news release said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at email@example.com.