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Should consumer fireworks be legal in Iowa?

Local legislator said bill to lift 76-year ban on fireworks in Iowa has strong bipartisan and public support

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 11:25 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 12:22 p.m. CDT

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Should Iowans be able to buy and set off consumer fireworks like bottle rockets and Roman candles?

That question is the source of heavy debate this month at the Iowa statehouse after a Senate subcommittee approved Senate Study Bill 3182, which would allow Iowans 18 and older to purchase and set off consumer fireworks in the Hawkeye state.

The bill has now moved to the Senate floor for consideration. Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said this morning she is a proponent of the bill and fully expects the bill to be discussed on the Senate floor.

“This bill has strong bipartisan and public support,” Sinclair said. “I support the bill. I grew up in Missouri and I made it out with all my eyes, fingers and toes. I don’t know why Iowa would want to exclude themselves from celebrating our nation’s independence.”

Consumer fireworks — like bottle rockets and Roman candles — have been illegal in Iowa for more than 70 years.

They were deemed illegal in 1938 after lit sparklers, dropped by children, caused two major fires in northwest Iowa. Those fires destroyed more than 45 buildings and left more than 100 people homeless during the 1930s — this according to a Des Moines Register story published last week.

Common sense

Iowa is one of only four states that ban most fireworks, but allow sparklers and novelties like toy snakes. Selling or firing off anything else is a simple misdemeanor that can result in a fine of $250.

Todd Jackson, fire chief for Creston Fire Department, said it’s no secret many Crestonians travel into Missouri — where consumer fireworks are legally sold — then bring them back to Creston and set them off.

Jackson doesn’t have a problem with the bill.

“We are one of the few states where (consumer) fireworks are illegal,” Jackson said. “There are dangers involved, but I think for the most part people here are responsible and use common sense when setting off fireworks.”

Jackson could only recall one incident in the past 15 years whereby fireworks were the direct cause of significant property damage.

“We had a car burn up about 12 years ago,” Jackson said. “Some boys — who were lighting fireworks and tossing them out of a car — dropped their punk in a full bag of fireworks. They narrowly escaped serious injury. But again, things like that come down to common sense.”

Steve Maitlen, chief deputy in Union County, agreed that injuries caused by fireworks have been minimal in recent years.

“We’ve had minor burns,” Maitlen said. “That’s about it.”

Maitlen adds: “People are going to shoot them off whether it’s illegal or not. And the way the law reads now, we must catch them in the act of shooting them off. That’s tough to do. I don’t see a problem with legalizing them. People will just have to be careful and use common sense.”

He said the bigger headache for city and county law enforcement are the large volume of nuisance complaints they receive because fireworks are being set off too late.

“People don’t need to be shooting them off at midnight,” Maitlen said.

Local control

The bill does allow for local control. Even if the bill passes at the state level, city councils and county boards of supervisors across Iowa can opt out of legalizing fireworks should they feel they are a threat to public safety.

“If they legalize fireworks at the state level, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with them being purchased and shot off here,” said Union County Supervisor Ron Riley. “But as supervisors, we would want to discuss it, get local feedback from the citizens and then make a decision.”

If legalized, Iowa would join several other states that are now easing restrictions in an effort to keep sales tax revenue within state borders.

The bill is expected to be discussed on the Senate floor sometime in March. If approved, the bill would then move to the House for consideration.

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