Iowa fireworks legalization sputtering, but hasn't fizzled out

Bill legalizing some fireworks requested

It may be on a short fuse, but efforts to legalize fireworks in Iowa haven’t fizzled out.

Firefighters, insurance interests and medical professionals are fighting attempts to legalize fireworks, but so far haven’t doused the effort to let Iowans legally buy fireworks like folks in 42 states.

“It all comes down to safety,” according to Wayne Sawtell of Marshalltown, vice president of the Iowa Professional Fire Fighters. “There are too many national studies that reinforce the fact that the more fireworks there are the more injuries there are.”

However, floor manager of Senate File 2294, Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, said Tuesday the facts don’t back up Sawtell’s claim. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, fireworks-related injuries have fallen from 23 per 100,000 pounds of fireworks in 1980 to four per 100,000 pounds in 2010. Injuries have decreased 57 percent since 2000 while sales have increased 150 million pounds to 200 million pounds of fireworks, the association said.

No one disputes that Iowans buy fireworks now in Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin, for example. Supporters of SF 2294 say that legalizing the sale of bottle rockets, firecrackers and roman candles, for example would like to let Iowa retailers capture some of the revenue spent across state lines. The state would reap some sales tax revenue, too.

SF 2294 is ready for floor debate, according to Senate State Government Committee Chairman Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls. However, he’s not certain the Senate will get to it before the Legislature’s second self-imposed funnel deadline for legislation to be approved by one chamber and a committee in the other.

However, fireworks won’t die in the funnel because House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tom Sands, R-Wapello, has requested a bill that would legalize some fireworks. Ways and Means bills are not subject to the deadline.

Sands’ bill would be similar to SF 2294 in that it would allow the sale of small fireworks – not M-80s of “cherry bombs” – to Iowans 18 and older. Purchases by minors would be misdemeanors punishable a fine of a least $250.

SF 2294 would give the state fire marshal, city councils and county boards authority to suspend the use of fireworks if the devices were deemed to be a threat to public safety.

Rep. Rob Bacon, R-Slater, who tried to light the fireworks fuse last year, isn’t optimistic the current effort will be any more successful than his effort to legalize snappers and poppers.

“I don’t see it going anywhere,” he said Tuesday.

He thinks it’s ironic that Iowa bans fireworks sales, but allows sparklers. It was a sparkler, Bacon said, that caused the 1931 fire that destroyed 25 buildings and damaged another 50 in a five-block area of the downtown Spencer business district. That fire prompted the Iowa ban.

“Yeah, a sparkler dropped into a bin full of fireworks,” Sawtell countered.


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