Government

Branstad signs bill to legalize fireworks in Iowa

Use limited to two holiday periods

A pile of confiscated fireworks at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department on June 28, 2016. Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law Tuesday, May 9., 2017 to legalize fireworks like these in Iowa. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)
A pile of confiscated fireworks at the Cedar Rapids Fire Department on June 28, 2016. Gov. Terry Branstad signed a law Tuesday, May 9., 2017 to legalize fireworks like these in Iowa. (Liz Zabel/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad put a charge into Iowans’ Fourth of July celebration plans Tuesday by signing legislation to legalize the possession, sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks on a limited basis — if local officials don’t later defuse the explosive activities.

With the signing of Senate File 489, Iowa joined 43 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing fireworks beyond the sparklers, caps and snakes that were the only fireworks products legal until now.

“Let the fireworks begin,” Branstad said after signing the bill with about three dozen supporters at a Capitol ceremony. The governor said he expected the State Fire Marshal’s Office and other state agencies will have rules in place in time for retailers to begin sales before the Independence Day holiday.

Branstad noted the bill will make fireworks legal in the state again, as was the case decades ago, and will mean Iowans no longer would feel it necessary have to travel to border states to purchase products for illegal use here.

“We’re eliminating an 80-year ban that’s been put in place and Iowans are now going to be able to celebrate the Fourth of July just like many other American citizens across the country are able to celebrate by using fireworks,” Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, who guided the bill to passage in the Senate.

“We’ll see how many communities opt out. I know there are some here in the metro area that are looking at doing that but I think a vast majority are going to allow it,” Chapman noted. “We’re just a few weeks away from being able to display fireworks. I’m excited for people to be able to enjoy the Fourth of July just like many other Americans and do it legally.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, another longtime supporter, said he was glad to see Iowa changing an existing fireworks law that he considered to be “the silliest law ever.”

Iowa’s current law, allowing only the sale and use of sparklers and other novelty fireworks, has been among the nation’s most stringent.

“Do we let you own a barbecue grill and not put a steak on it? Heavens no,” he said.

Senate File 489 permits licensed retailers or community groups to sell consumer-grade fireworks to adults 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. It also places time restrictions for the display of fireworks.

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, caps and snakes — as a simple misdemeanor.

During the legislative debate over reauthorizing legal fireworks, critics expressed concerns fires, injuries and death as well as pets and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the proliferation of fireworks, albeit it during only certain times of the year and during specified hours. “Basically, people shoot off fireworks anyway, but this way they can sell them in Iowa,” Branstad said.

ABOUT THE NEW LAW

-- Licensed retailers and community groups will 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 will be allowed to sell from temporary structures, such as tents, from June 13 to July 8.
-- Fireworks can 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 will 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.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com