A while back some friends over from Honolulu came to town once. They wanted to go out. Compared to the tropical metropolis on Oahu, Maui’s night life is a bit lacking. Nonetheless, they managed to find a packed house with a big crowd, loud music, and a dance floor. When they tried to hit the floor, however, security guards came out of a dark corner and ushered them off.
I forgot to tell them about our county's strange institution and its even stranger rules. No drinks on the dance floor. Anyone dancing outside the designated “dance floor” area, well, can't. Yes, it’s an actual rule. That's why bars have a marked off area with tape on the floor or set up a barricade of tables to make space for dancing.
If you have to work with liquor on this island, you probably know about our Department of Liquor Control. The rules they make and the way they enforce them have made just about every establishment that sells liquor to the public a potential target. It starts with a citation to the license holder. The establishment would then have to face the liquor commission and plead its case. The penalties can range from monetary fines, suspensions, and in the most extreme cases a revocation of the liquor license. In other words, bars and restaurants take liquor license violations seriously.
The no-dancing-outside-the-designated-dance-floor rule has troubled tourists, partiers, drinkers, and especially bars for years. Some folks have even organized and gotten a bit political about it.
Maui Dance Advocates has been campaigning against the liquor commission’s rule about dancing. Their mission, according to their website, is pretty straightforward: “We have been working hard for 9 years to figure out if we can bob our heads and tap (our) toes in bars and restaurants. We like dance floors for dancing, but we want a little wiggle room while we are standing around listening to music in places that sell alcohol.”
Last year, the Legislature got in on the act and a bill was bandied about that would require the County to define the term “dancing.” Seems easy enough, right? But then again, where do you draw the line? Is bobbing your head to music dancing? Do you need a partner in order to dance? What about music? Do you need that? What about tapping your toe? And then there’s the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of expression. Wouldn’t dancing fall under that too? Could such a rule withstand a constitutional challenge?
It shouldn’t be a surprise that our County’s Department of Liquor Control, along with the City and County of Honolulu, opposed the measure. The liquor commission opposed the bill because it did not cite “any liquor licensees for any dancing-related violations.” That may be true, but just because a bar didn’t cited is beside the point. The bars—often afraid of getting a citation—enforce the rule themselves. The dance advocates often argue that the bouncers and bar owners clamp down on dancing in order to avoid a citation in the first place.
In any event, the bill went nowhere. It never made it out of the Legislature.
This year’s different though. Maui Senator J. Kalani English introduced a new bill that basically empowers each and every county the right to enforce limitations on dancing at bars and restaurants that serve booze. Here’s the catch: if we’re going to regulate dancing, the bill requires the county to define the term “dancing.”
Jiva Jive, the leading advocate behind MDA, has been hopeful things will change. He and his colleagues showed up at the Capitol this session to show their support for the bill by dancing in the rotunda. Decked out in his massive afro and purple crocs, Jive was cutting a rug in support of the bill.
Apparently it worked (the fact that the County didn’t oppose it probably helped too.). This year the Legislature passed the bill and it is awaiting Governor Ige’s signature. He has until June 29 to let us know if he intends to veto the bill. From there, he has another 10 days to actually veto it. Then the Legislature would have to figure out if it wanted to override him in a special session.
Then again, the governor could sign the bill or let it pass into law without his signature and the County would have to come up with a definition for the word “dancing” no later than October 1. And good luck with that.