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Honolulu Food Truck Bill 59

Run a red light? Go to Jail.

Rolling stop? Go to Jail.

Didn’t feed the meter? Jail, Jail, JAIL.

People keep asking me for my comments on the new Bill 59.  That’s because I’m still the only attorney in the State of Hawaii that’s gone to trial under that law and won.

Bill 59 is the bill Tulsi Gabbard introduced to change the old law that stops food trucks from parking on a corner for longer than fifteen minutes.  This old law is a carryover of simpler times in Honolulu when mom would steam the Manapua while the kids made the Musubi on the kitchen table.  The law predates the other section of the Hawaii Revised Ordinances that govern peddling, and it definitely predates all the regulations on having a commercial-grade kitchen for the prep work that Food Trucks now require.  So when a sweet woman who simply wanted to sell popsicles outside the Supreme Court building came to me and told me the police were harassing her, I couldn’t turn her down.

It was a very simple case.  One cop-out of the entire force decided she shouldn’t sell popsicles. He didn’t care that she had her peddler’s license and that all her paperwork was in order.  He admitted that he wanted to give her a peddling ticket, but he couldn’t so he gave her this ticket.  He didn’t care that the law plainly didn’t apply.  She was on the sidewalk, this law was in the traffic code.

So when Kathy asked if this is something I could help with, I took the case.  We did some research and scheduled the case for trial.  And then I started hearing from more and more food trucks: the same officer was threatening the lot of them, but only Kathy got the ticket. She was the guinea pig.

So we went to Court and the Office of the Prosecutor fought against us tooth and nail.  Three Prosecutors are on the record arguing against us. One would get their argument beaten up and then the next one would start.  And they ended with their favorite argument “C’mon, Judge, please, please, PLEASE.”

But luckily we had a fair judge who threw the case out of court.  She looked at the law, heard the arguments of the Prosecutors, and told them “The way this law is written, it’s too vague. It doesn’t give ordinary citizens who apply for peddler’s licenses and do what they’re supposed to do, notice that what they’re doing is illegal.” And that’s it, the case is thrown out.

Two days later, when Kathy is back in her regular spot, another Police officer comes over and threatens her with the same ticket. “I just won” she protested.  But the Officer scares away her customers. Smart officers know though, they won’t write her a ticket.  If they do, she just has to go to court again.

And so I became the attorney for the Trucks, in spirit if not in the contract. And I was able to go to a meeting between the food Trucks and Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard.

So the first meeting went over great. Her staff explained they wanted to change the words “15 minutes” to “two hours”. We asked three times, “Are you changing anything else? Are you changing anything else? Are you changing anything else?”

And they assured us. “Absolutely not”.

And we were very clear, “If you change anything else to make it worse for the food trucks to serve, you’ll be doing them a DISSERVICE. Please don’t change anything else.” And we all shook hands, exchanged cards, and left happy with some sweet potato pie.

And then I read the rewritten Bill.

And it took me a day to think about it.  And the next day I emailed.  And a week later I emailed again.  I had grave concerns.  I still have grave concerns.  I write this because I still have these concerns and they haven’t been addressed.  Since the Bill went through first reading today, I want to make sure anyone who is interested understands the problems with the new bill. Here they are:

An assistant who helped draft this bill, assuredly with the best of intentions, in spite of the promise to us that NOTHING else would be changed, added Sub-paragraph 3.  Sub-paragraph 3 includes two clauses: The first guts any protection the extended time limit was meant to create. Police no longer need to wait 15 minutes, why? The ill-advised and undefined “hazardous condition or public nuisance” standard doesn’t exist. That means any truck anytime.  More importantly, it’s not even creating a public nuisance, it’s “In reckless disregard of the RISK…” well, isn’t there always a RISK of public nuisance. The business is finished.

But the second is even worse:

Let’s say you steal a lady’s purse. Well, if you’re carrying a gun, the punishment is much worse.  Knowing this, read Sub-paragraph B again. Catch it?

If you overstay a parking meter as a food truck, guess what? Jailable.  Roll through a stop sign? Petty Misdemeanor. Park slightly out of a stall. It goes on your permanent, CRIMINAL record.

“Comply with… all rules relating to traffic, parking”

And if you don’t, it’s now punishable by THIS statute, which makes it jailable if you didn’t feed the meter.  This bill, no matter how well-intentioned, gives the few vindictive police, power to arrest and charge for ANY violation.  Even a standard unpaid meter. Even a “rule” which is neither a defined Statute or Ordinance. just a “rule”.

If you enjoy food trucks, get your meals now.  If this new Bill passes as written, they’re finished.