Panel defers rule change extending liquor-to-go hours

Residents oppose rule; department says it’s already a state law

Katie Folio of the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth testifies on Wednesday against a rule change that would allow restaurants and dispensers to serve liquor for off-premises consumption from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The commission approved several rule changes but deferred others, including the restaurant provision. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

WAILUKU — A bartender, a priest and a group of local students walked into a public hearing on Wednesday to oppose a rule change that would allow Maui County restaurants to serve liquor to go.

The county Liquor Control Department says a state law already allows it and that the county is just clarifying its own rules. The change would allow restaurants and dispensers to serve liquor for off-premises consumption from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., which brewpubs, wineries and small craft producers already can do.

About two dozen testifiers packed the department’s conference room, many speaking to the dangers of making more alcohol available to the community.

The Liquor Control Commission approved most of the department’s rule changes but deferred several, including the restaurant provision.

During public testimony, students from the Maui Nui Youth Council put on a skit to demonstrate the impacts of different alcohol content and to oppose the department’s proposed definition of a standard drink and the liquor-to-go provision.

Rick Collins, director of the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth, discusses the dangers of increasing alcohol availability in the community.

“We are opposed to making restaurants retail outlets for alcohol sales,” said Patricio Santiago, a 7th-grader at Seabury Hall. “This will create more alcohol availability in our community, which according to the World Health Organization, is a major contributor to underage drinking. We do not need more underage drinking in our community and hope that you will ensure our safety by not allowing this to happen.”

Rick Collins, director of the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth, said that “prevention science shows that when there is a significant increase in alcohol density that there is an increase in overall alcohol consumption in the community.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, higher alcohol density is linked to higher overall violence rates, drunken driving rates and underage drinking, Collins said.

Opponents included Hang Loose Lounge bartender Jenifer Brown, who said she’d have no way of knowing if people asking for alcohol to go might have underage kids in the car, and Kerith Harding, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church, who said that the rule change was not something the public wanted but likely spurred by “beverage vendors with corporate interests and others who frankly don’t have the public’s health or interest in mind.”

The commission went into a 20-minute executive session before voting to approve most of the rule changes, with five in favor and one commissioner, Alberta de Jetley, abstaining. The changes that were deferred and will likely be taken up at the commission’s next meeting in June include:

• Defining drinks, standard drinks, hosted bars and no-host bars. A “standard drink” would be defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1¢ ounces of distilled spirits.

Liquor Control Director Glenn Mukai (right) and Deputy Director Georgette Tyau listen to testimony during the public hearing on Wednesday. Mukai said that the rule change allowing restaurants to sell liquor to go is already state law.

• Allowing restaurants and dispensers to serve liquor for off-premises consumption from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and manufacturers and wholesalers to do business at any time.

• Removing the rule that prevents serving more than two drinks at one time to an individual to allow for the serving of flights, provided the combined drinks do not exceed the volume of a standard drink.

When asked in March why the department was considering the restaurant rule change, Liquor Control Director Glenn Mukai said that it was to “even the playing field” since brewpubs, wineries and small craft producers can already sell drinks to go. However, he added Wednesday that it’s actually a state law and that the county is just updating its own rules.

In 2015, the state Legislature passed House Bill 770, which amended state liquor laws to say that a Class 2 restaurant license “shall also authorize the licensee to sell beer, malt beverages or cider for off-premises consumption.” The drink must be sold “in a securely sealed or covered glass, ceramic or metal container that is sold to or provided by the patron,” and the container cannot exceed a half gallon.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Murai said that restaurants in Maui County can already serve liquor for off-premises consumption.

The county can make its laws more restrictive than the state’s in some instances, but if the law says the license “shall” authorize, the county has to follow the state’s lead, First Deputy Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi explained.

The county does have the power to set the hours of sale, and Murai said that the 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. time slot would be consistent with current liquor retail hours in the county. However, it would essentially extend morning liquor-sale hours for restaurants, which can currently serve liquor for on-premises consumption from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next day.

Collins said the coalition planned to do more legal analysis before the next meeting and was still opposed to the rule change.

Some of the other changes passed by the commission Wednesday include:

• Removing application requirements for state Department of Health clearance, federal tax clearance and guaranty or bond

• Allowing the director to approve change of location applications without a hearing for Class 8 transient vessels and Class 9 tour or cruise vessels

• Allowing the commission to issue a license while an applicant is validly challenging a tax assessment

• Allowing a license holder to place a license with the commission for temporary “safekeeping”

• Adding a special, per day, fundraising event fee of $0 to clarify the rules. The current license class fees do not list fundraising events

• Ending reciprocity between counties for liquor certificates.

To see a full list of the rules, visit mauicounty.gov/1004/ RulesLaws.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.