Critics assail proposal to allow inspectors to shut down bar based on ‘improper conduct’

A growing number of are raising concerns about a plan to dramatically overhaul Honolulu Liquor Commission rules.
Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 9:28 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2022 at 11:39 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A growing number of are raising concerns about a plan to dramatically overhaul Honolulu Liquor Commission rules, including allowing liquor inspectors to shut down a business if they see what’s only described as “improper conduct.”

“Rules with this kind of vague wording have often been weaponized against minority groups,” said Joseph Luna, one of the owners of Scarlet Honolulu.

The downtown gay nightclub that has already filed a federal discrimination lawsuit, claiming it has been unfairly targeted by liquor inspectors and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Luna says he’s worried the proposal would give “officials or prejudiced individuals the power to hide behind rule wording and anonymous reports to run desired minorities out of their neighborhoods.”

The proposal says inspectors could shut down a bar for conduct that’s “not fit and proper.”

“I think the commission in its own discretion can determine what is fit and proper, and I don’t believe this is an appropriate rule change,” said business attorney Keith Kiuchi.

Added John Blatt, who owns two Waikiki establishments that have catered to the gay community, “If they can, basically on a whim, close down a place for 24 hours, that does inestimable harm, not only to the business but to its patrons, its reputation.”

The rule would also let commissioners act based on anonymous complaints against an establishment.

Critics argue that the definition of “fit and proper” is not clear.

“To suggest in what’s proposed that somebody in the community can call in, or an investigator can come in and say, ‘I just saw behavior that’s improper conduct’ — how is that defined?” asked attorney Michael Green.

“Laws such as that have been used very dramatically to harass gay bars, the patrons,” added Blatt.

Green and other attorneys told the commission that the rule is too vague and gives inspectors too much power over any establishment.

“When you are exposing someone to the loss of their livelihood for an undefined reason, it makes no sense. It is illegal,” Green told the commission.

Commission members will look at written testimony before discussing the proposed rules and voting on them in a future meeting.

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