Government

Lifting Iowa ban on fireworks on way to governor

A pile of confiscated fireworks is seen June 28, 2016, at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. Fireworks that leave the ground or explode are illegal in Iowa. Only sparklers, snakes and caps are allowed. But Tuesday, the Iowa Legislature sent a bill for the governor to sign that would allow consumer fireworks around the Fourth of July and New Year’s. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
A pile of confiscated fireworks is seen June 28, 2016, at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department. Fireworks that leave the ground or explode are illegal in Iowa. Only sparklers, snakes and caps are allowed. But Tuesday, the Iowa Legislature sent a bill for the governor to sign that would allow consumer fireworks around the Fourth of July and New Year’s. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — When Rep. Matt Windschitl thinks about the Fourth of July, he thinks “fun, freedom and fireworks.”

With passage Tuesday of Senate File 489 by a 56-41 margin, he and other Iowans would be able to celebrate the midsummer holiday — and New Year’s — with more than the sparklers, caps and snakes now allowed if Gov. Terry Branstad signs it into law.

Long a topic kicked around by lawmakers, legalizing consumer fireworks in Iowa would place the state among 43 others — including Iowa’s neighbors except Illinois — that allow them. In fact, Iowans already are buying fireworks — just not here.

“They are driving across the border into other states, spending their hard-earned dollars in other states to purchases these products, fill up with gas, buy beer and whatever else, snacks, and then come back into Iowa to use them,” said Windschitl, a Missouri Valley Republican. “Let’s give them the opportunity to spend their dollars in Iowa.”

Others, however, think about fire, injuries and death was well as pets and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder when the subject of fireworks comes up.

“What we legislate against is stupid ideas and stupid people who make bad choices and bad decisions,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.

But it’s not the Legislature’s job to “bubble-wrap Iowans,” Windschitl countered.

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“We can’t legislate away stupid people and the actions they’re going to take,” he said. “They can make this decision themselves.”

The bill, which was approved last month by the Senate 34-14, was backed in the House by 50 Republicans and six Democrats, with eight Republicans joining 33 Democrats to vote against it. Three representatives were absent.

It now goes to Branstad, who has indicated a willingness to sign it.

The bill would allow Iowans to buy fireworks, albeit it during only certain times of the year, and set them off during specified hours.

SF 489 allows licensed retailers or community groups to sell consumer-grade fireworks out of permanent structures to adults between June 1 and July 8, and between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3.

A similar provision would apply to temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 through July 8 each year.

The bill also puts time restrictions on igniting the fireworks — mostly from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on days around those holidays, but a slightly extended period on and near the holidays.

The measure sets a fee structure for various license levels and bars the sale or purchase involving anyone under 18.

A violation is punishable by a fine of between $250 and $625.

Importantly, the bill allows counties or cities that do not want to legalize fireworks to limit or opt out of their use — but not their sale.

Cedar Rapids is one of few cities in the state that doesn’t allow people to “use, sell, or possess fireworks in the city limits,” according to Fire Marshal Vance McKinnon, who briefed the city Public Safety & Youth Services Committee about the bill this week.

“We think it is kind of ridiculous to allow people to come in and sell fireworks in our community and then tell them, ‘Now you have to leave,’” McKinnon said.

He and Cedar Rapids Fire Chief Mark English said they plan to research with legal staff the options for restricting sales and possession under the bill. Generally, municipalities can be more restrictive than the state, McKinnon said.

“As the fire chief, that would be my preference — to not even allow possession in the city,” English said.

In a work session, the Marion City Council also discussed the issue Tuesday night. Fire Chief Debra Krebill said she didn’t believe it would be realistic to ban the use of fireworks if their sale was permitted.

Council members informally agreed, but considered restricting use to closer to the Fourth of July and New Year’s holidays.

“It would be unrealistic to expect them to go elsewhere and use it if they buy it in the community,” said Mayor Nick Abou-Assaly.

However, Krebill and Police Chief Joe McHale said they prefer the council ban the sale of fireworks at temporary sites, such as tents. Permanent stores with sprinkler systems would be the preferred site for sales, Krebill said, adding last year, there were three fires caused by fireworks.

McHale said police have issued three citations for fireworks in the last five years.

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Democrats in the House, who offered amendments to modify the bill and spoke at length during the two hour-plus debate, were critical of spending so much time on the bill.

“It’s interesting that today is the last official day of session,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, referring to the fact that lawmakers will no longer collect daily expense money. “We’re spending half the day on a fireworks bill. Is that the most important thing we have to do today?”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

B.A. Morelli and Makayla Tendall of The Gazette contributed to this report.

ABOUT THE BILL

If the consumer fireworks bill is signed into law:

• Licensed retailers and community groups would be allowed to sell the fireworks out of permanent structures to adults between June 1 and July 8, and again between Dec. 10 and Jan. 3.

• They would be allowed to sell from temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 to July 8.

• Fireworks could be set off from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on June 1 to July 8 and again on Dec. 10 to Jan. 3 each year, but with some expanded hours on certain dates.

• Those expanded hours would be between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. July 4 and the Saturday and Sunday before and after it; between 9 a.m. Dec. 31 and 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1; and between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. on the Saturday and Sunday before and after Dec. 31.

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