Iowa inches closer to legal fireworks

Bill allowing sales over limited holiday periods eligible for Senate debate

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DES MOINES — Members of a Senate tax-writing panel expressed concerns Wednesday whether a proposed fee structure for licensing and regulating fireworks businesses and tents is sufficient to cover initial costs, but a majority voted to forge ahead with plans to begin sales and use of consumer fireworks by June.

Waterloo Democratic Sen. Bill Dotzler joined nine GOP senators in approving Senate File 236 so it can proceed to floor debate. Five Democrats on the Senate Ways & Means Committee opposed the move in part over the bill taking effect upon enactment with a limited fee and regulatory structure in place.

“This is not the right thing for our state,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.

However, committee Chairman Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said he lives 20 miles from South Dakota, where fireworks are legal, and he recalled a “fireworks extravaganza” in Okoboji last July 4 he thought would be safer under state regulation than having “them go off unregulated.”

“It seems like it is the right thing to do right now,” said Feenstra, who was among the senators in favor of setting limited holiday periods when the products could be bought and ignited by adults.

SF 236 would allow licensed retailers or community groups to sell consumer fireworks in permanent structures between June 1 and July 8 and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3. A similar provision would apply to conforming temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 through July 8 each year.

The measure sets a fee structure for various licensure levels; allows counties or cities that do not want to legalize fireworks to opt out of the use but not the sale; and bars the sale or purchase involving anyone under 18. A violation would be punishable by a fine of at least $250 but no more than $625.

Iowa law currently classifies the possession, sale or use of consumer fireworks without a permit — other than sparklers and snakes — as a simple misdemeanor.

A fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Services Agency estimated taxable sales of consumer fireworks in Iowa would generate about $17.8 million yet this fiscal year and $24.8 million in fiscal 2018, growing to $28.48 million by fiscal 2021. State sales tax collections would total about $890,000 yet this fiscal year and top $1.42 million by fiscal 2021.

To fully fund the $140,796 in costs for the State Fire Marshal Division to hire and equip two inspectors would require the sale and collection of nearly 800 retail licenses or wholesaler registration fees that range from $400 to $1,000 each, depending on the type fireworks operation.

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