Liquor panel faces the music with petition, public, lawsuit
Testifiers came en masse to oppose rule changes signed into law in February
WAILUKU — Families of victims of drunken driving, recovering alcoholics and a former mayor were among about 50 people who all opposed the Maui County Liquor Control Commission’s decision in February to allow 24-hour retail sale of alcohol and to remove the cap on hostess bars in the county during a special meeting Tuesday.
“I’m totally against this 24-hour sale. This is crazy,” former Mayor Charmaine Tavares said during the meeting in the Trask Building. “If somebody wants 24-hour liquor they should move to Las Vegas.”
Testifiers packed the commission’s small room, with dozens spilling out into a reception area and the outdoor courtyard. The special meeting was held in response to a petition submitted by Wailuku resident Mahina Martin last month to repeal the rule changes the commission adopted at its Feb. 8 meeting, which were signed by Mayor Alan Arakawa on Feb. 21.
Martin, a founding member of the Coalition to Repeal 24 Hour Alcohol Sales, focused on reversing changes in the rules that:
• Eliminated the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period for retail sales of alcohol.
• Eliminated the cap of 12 hostess bars in the county.
• Allowed home delivery of alcohol.
Martin said that she and many community leaders were unaware of the new rules until The Maui News reported the changes March 23. Retailers who sell alcohol and were interviewed for the story did not know about the rule changes.
“I was very alarmed that the Police Department was unaware” of the rules, Martin told commissioners. “It was even more disturbing that there seemed to be an unwillingness (by the Liquor Control Department and commission) to engage with the community. I encouraged the department and commission to not govern by fear but to allow for the process to take its place.”
Martin said the coalition recently contacted a number of retail stores in the county — out of the hundreds of liquor licenses issued — and only about 10 were selling alcohol 24 hours.
“A few actually reverted back to not selling because their clerks are in danger,” she said. “They’re untrained, they’re dealing with belligerent buyers, they’re nervous, they’re scared. All I’m asking is that you do a little more.
“It’s not necessary for the public to micromanage government functions,” Martin said. “We just simply need a voice in things that are really important. It’s not venting; it’s perspectives that matter.”
Parents of people killed by drunken drivers shed tears as they asked commissioners to reconsider their ruling. Others wiped away tears recounting how alcohol tore apart their family and lives.
Wailuku resident Andrea Maniago told commissioners of her 16-year-old son, who was killed by a drunken driver in 2009. Kaio Fukushima, a Baldwin High School student, died along with Laula Wallace, 19.
“The day my son was killed is the day that changed our lives forever,” Maniago said choking back tears. “I felt this unbearable pain, and I thought I would never move on. I watched my husband’s hopes and dreams disappear. I saw my daughter’s zest for life being crushed.
“But it doesn’t stop there. The pain of loss is far reaching and long lasting.”
Since the loss of her son, Maniago has volunteered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and shares her story with the victim impact panel for DUI drivers education classes. The classes are mandatory for convicted DUI drivers and usually are maxed out with 35 students per class, she said.
“There is no shortage of drunken drivers on Maui roads and with the transition to 24-hour liquor sales, there will be many more,” she said.
Waihee resident Kaniloa Kamaunu told commissioners about how his 27-year-old son was killed by a drunken driver in 2015. Tyree Kamaunu died, along with Howard Pruse, 25, and Eric Oguma, 51.
“We never got to see him,” Kamaunu said sobbing. “The damage to him was so bad they (police) had to convince my wife not to see him. . . . I don’t understand the reasoning for such legislation when it’s already a problem.”
Retired police Capt. Charles Hirata, a 32-year veteran of the force and former traffic commander, said that 45 percent of Hawaii’s fatal crashes involve alcohol. He now serves on the state Department of Transportation’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
“The decisions that you make affect others, including members of the public,” Hirata told commissioners. “You, however, will not be responding to any vehicle crash at 4 a.m. You will not be extricating crash victims from mangled vehicles. You will not be the ones struggling to keep victims alive in an ambulance.
“But, most of all you, won’t be accompanying the traffic officer who makes the death notification to family members. I’ve seen too many lives wasted by impaired driving, so help me save some lives.”
Several program advisers and clients of Malama Family Recovery Center, a substance abuse treatment facility for women, spoke about drinking becoming a gateway to drug abuse. Many clients said they began drinking in their early teens. Some said they were raped by drunken men.
“We work very hard from the deepest parts of our hearts for our woman, who are in recovery whether it be liquor or drugs,” adviser Annette Huesing-Ammasi said. “They are striving every day to recover so they don’t relapse time and time again. I see the lives that can change from all the hard work they apply to get their children back and be functional in our community. . . . and they go back out and relapse because of the availability.”
In an ironic twist, several underage drinking prevention advocates thanked the commission for funding their programs, but made clear that the new rules work against their efforts. Maui Youth & Family Services officials carried a lei with the signatures of 95 teenagers asking the commission to repeal the rules.
“This clearly goes against our prevention efforts and puts our community at risk for more alcohol-related consequences,” Clinical Director Rick Collins said.
Advocates for women of domestic violence and abuse criticized the commission for lifting the cap on hostess bars in the county. Many linked the bars to human trafficking and degrading women, along with manipulating men.
“I take offense that they’re called hostess bars, because it puts this really nice sound to them like you come in and there’s a hostess and she serves you tea and cookies, and that’s not what’s going on,” said Stacey Moniz, executive director of the Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and former director of women’s shelter Women Helping Women. “It’s very dark, it’s very seedy, it’s very dangerous.”
Moniz said she has worked with women at the bars who have been raped multiple times. She said many are in debt to owners that no amount of drinks or sexual acts will repay.
The limit on the number of hostess bars was put in place in the early 1990s, led by former Mayor Hannibal Tavares, a longtime critic of hostess bars and father of Charmaine Tavares. Charmaine Tavares said liquor commission Chairman Robert Tanaka knew her father “very well” and how he went through “great pains” to enforce the cap.
“I question why does that even come up?” Tavares said. “I understand there are still licenses available, so I don’t know what the driving need is for that.”
On the 24/7 retail sales of alcohol, Tavares said, “People who say they can’t get booze after work, well plan ahead a little bit, guys.
“Buy your booze and leave it at home and when you get home you can drink,” she said. “Is it worth having the convenience because I want a drink that everyone else in the community is now subject to a much harsher environment to live in?”
After the meeting, most commissioners declined to say if they would repeal the rules and referred discussion to today’s regularly scheduled meeting. The commission plans to review and discuss Martin’s petition; the agenda says the panel may choose to defer, reject or begin the process of amending the rules.
The commission’s actions also face a legal challenge over the limited public notice for its February actions. If the petitioners, led by Kihei resident Madge Schaeffer, are victorious, the court could throw out the February rule changes.
Molokai commissioner Dawn Bicoy thanked Martin for initiating the special meeting and helping to lead the coalition. Bicoy said that she appreciated the heartfelt words from testifiers that helped commissioners better understand the community’s concerns.
“I’m touched and very grateful that they gave their time to let us know how they feel and what they would like to see,” she said.
Tanaka said he was glad with the number of people who testified and their diversity.
“We will discuss Mahina’s letter and petition at tomorrow’s meeting,” he said. “Hopefully, we can come to some kind of conclusion.”
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.