Government

Iowa statehouse bill would pre-empt fireworks bans by local governments on July 4

Local leaders oppose state 'intrusion' on policies

(FILE PHOTO) Paul Myers, co-owner of Boom Boom Billy’s set up to sell fireworks out of the expo south building at Hawkeye Downs in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photographed Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) Paul Myers, co-owner of Boom Boom Billy’s set up to sell fireworks out of the expo south building at Hawkeye Downs in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Photographed Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Regardless of how city and county governments feel about it, home fireworks displays would be legal on the Fourth of July under legislation being considered at the Capitol.

A bill introduced by Iowa Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, would overrule ordinances like those in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and require localities to let residents set off fireworks on July 4.

The state’s fireworks law, which was passed in 2017 and made home fireworks displays legal for the first time since 1938, currently gives cities and counties the flexibility to restrict or even ban home fireworks displays.

Chapman’s Senate Study Bill 1035 would remove that option for July 4 and also would restrict local government’s ability to use zoning laws to dictate where fireworks can be sold.

Chapman said his proposal seeks to provide some clarity, even for just a day, because cities have enacted myriad policies on home displays.

“I believe most Iowans want to follow the law,” Chapman said. “There’s a lot of confusion out there as to when people can shoot off fireworks.”

Chapman’s proposal is getting pushback from local leaders, who say they negotiated for flexibility when the 2017 state law was written and that they know best what policy is best for their communities.

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Some of Iowa’s largest cities have enacted strict restrictions or outright bans on home fireworks.

Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and Mason City have enacted bans — although the Waterloo council is reconsidering. Sioux City and Marion allow home displays only for small windows of time.

Local government officials across the state and the organizations that represent them have said they are opposed to the bill, which has passed a Senate subcommittee and heads next to the Senate Commerce Committee that Chapman chairs.

Cedar Rapids officials kept the most lenient fireworks rules allowed when the state legalized them in 2017. Then the phones started ringing.

Residents fumed and police were inundated with nearly 1,000 calls for service in June and July 2017 related to fireworks. Several fires, injuries and an increase in air toxins were attributed to fireworks that summer.

The City Council reversed course and banned fireworks use and limited sales to industrial sectors only.

“I cannot believe the Legislature continues to put restrictions on communities,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said Monday. “What happened to home rule? That is troubling to me.”

Marion allows fireworks only on July 4 from noon until 11 p.m. and on Dec. 31 from 6 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1 and has no zoning restrictions on where they can be sold.

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Lon Pluckhahn, Marion’s city manager, said his city would be “categorically opposed to further state intrusion into local control.”

“Communities need to have the flexibility to decide for themselves what the rules are, as the density of our population base means that one cannot set off fireworks on their property and guarantee that they will not impact their neighbors,” Pluckhahn said. “That may well be the case in rural areas, but it is not in cities. This is not an area where a one-size-fits-all regulation is appropriate.”

Iowa City, like Cedar Rapids, bans the displays and requires that fireworks be sold only in industrial areas.

Iowa City Council member Rockne Cole called the legislation a “complete waste of time and it’s an insult” to residents who don’t want fireworks being ignited.

“We were concerned about noise. We were concerned about safety of our residents,“ Cole said. “I certainly believe in the liberty of each individual to make whatever decision they choose. But that liberty ends when someone else’s safety or health and well-being is affected. And that’s precisely what the concern is.”

Chapman’s bill would not allow cities to restrict sales to only industrial areas — which puts retailers like drug and discount stores at a disadvantage — nor conduct safety inspections for licensing without getting permission from the state fire marshal.

B.A. Morelli and Madison Arnold of The Gazette contributed.

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