Maui News

New Maui law holding hosts liable for underage drinking under scrutiny

By Kehaulani Cerizo
January 7, 2022, 6:00 AM HST
* Updated January 7, 7:35 AM
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A new Maui law that holds hosts liable for underage drinking could be changed or even repealed. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

A new Maui law that makes the host of a gathering liable for illegal underage drinking may be changed or even repealed due to concerns over enforcement and appeals.

Parents, youth and organizations such as Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth fought hard for the law’s passage.

But officials are now raising questions about how it will be implemented.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier said he wants the police department to focus on violent and other serious crime — not civil matters, such as the social host rule — especially in light of the highest vacancy rate MPD has seen.

“The numbers we just got yesterday from the department puts MPD at below 300 officers for the first time,” he said Wednesday during the Maui County Council Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee meeting. “We have a greater than 25% vacancy, which the best way I can explain it, is to cut off one quarter of your body and be asked to perform at that same standard.”

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The meeting considered changes to the law’s appeals process. Ultimately, the committee deferred the item, saying it will give the council time to gather information and will provide testifiers the option to raise concerns about possible changes to the law.

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After multiple meetings of impassioned testimony from scores of supporters, the council unanimously approved the bill in February and the law went into effect September

It makes the host of Maui gatherings at home or another private residence liable for illegal underage drinking. Gatherings are settings with two or more people.

Liability falls on the party with a right of possession to the residence or other private property at which a gathering occurs, such as a property owner, tenant or lessee, according to the rule. If the responsible person is a minor, the minor’s parents or legal guardians will be liable.

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Violating Maui’s social host ordinance carries a $200 civil fine for the first violation, $500 for second violation and $1,000 for third violation within a 12-month period. Subsequent violations within the same 12-month period may require reimbursement of police, fire or other emergency response service costs.

The notice of violation and order will become final unless an appeal is filed with the police commission within 30 days. 

However, Pelletier on Wednesday said the law is a civil issue that’s being forced into a “criminal mold, which is not where it fits.”

“This should not be handled by MPD as the enforcement arm,” he said during the meeting. “So the question would be, ‘OK, if we’re going to say it is, then you just let us know what violent crimes you don’t want us to go to.’ We don’t have the ability to go and chase down parties and say, ‘Hey, this is the case.’ That’s why there are lawsuits. There is a civil arm to address it.”

Also, the Maui Police Commission in a July letter said it wasn’t informed about the panel’s role in the appeals process before the law was passed.

“At the meeting, commissioners were displeased to find out that there was no notice to the commission about this ordinance prior to the coalition contacting the commission on June 2 and further displeased to realize that the commission was being given this duty without being informed to provide any comments during its adoption by the council,” the letter said.

The commission hailed the work of the council, the Maui Coalition for Drug-Free Youth and the intent of the ordinance, but said that it doesn’t believe the appeals function should reside with the commission. 

Committee Chairman Mike Molina on Wednesday countered that many meetings were held with heavy public testimony and that the commission could have voiced concerns earlier.

He added that the rule helps prevent alcohol-related crimes, which has strong support from parents who have lost their children to underage drinking and driving.

“I still remember seeing those parents who lost their children due to alcohol-related matters,” he said. “It certainly weighed on me.”

Several council members agreed that the rule needs to be reworked in light of the new information from the chief and the commission. 

Molina said the item may be added to a February agenda.

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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