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Fireworks expansion no dud, passes House

House Photography file photo

As of now, party poppers, snappers, toy smoke devices, snakes, glow worms or sparklers are legal fireworks in Minnesota. That list could grow.

Sponsored by Rep. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), HF1089, as amended, would expand the sale of legal fireworks to include aerial and audible devices — including bottle rockets, firecrackers and Roman candles. Their purchase would be limited to June 1 to July 10 each year, but there would be no time restriction for usage. However, cities and townships would have the ability to restrict — even prohibit — the sale or use of such fireworks.

Passed 73-56 by the House Monday, the so-called “Fireworks Freedom Act” now goes to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake).

“Fireworks are here in Minnesota and they are being used,” said Rarick, sporting a fireworks-themed tie. “It is my hope that we can pass this legislation so that we will make Minnesota citizens legal when they use these.”

“Your constituents want this,” added Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center).

Rarick, whose district abuts Wisconsin, previously made an economic argument that Minnesota loses approximately $5 million in annual sales tax revenue when people cross the border to purchase fireworks.

Regulating sale and use of consumer fireworks debated on House Floor

“We think this’ll be great for Minnesota’s economy,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said at an afternoon press conference. “It makes sense for us to get that tax revenue.”

A similar bill — it did not contain the local oversight language — was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012, primarily over safety concerns.

WATCH Floor debate of the bill on YouTube

Citing the governor’s intention to veto this bill as well, Rep. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) called the debate an “exercise in futility.”

State Fire Marshal Bruce West and a burn surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul spoke against the bill when it was approved last month by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee. Among their concerns were user and spectator safety, especially innocent bystanders who could be hurt due to someone else’s carelessness.

Other opponents spoke to the committee of increased property damage from fires started by fireworks, putting responding firefighters at risk with increased calls and the effect more fireworks could have on pets and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Some of those arguments blossomed again on the House Floor.

The increased use of fireworks means increased injuries, increased damage to property and increased hospital visits, said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center).  

Rarick counters that the vast number of injuries are from sparkler use, something already legal in Minnesota. At the press conference earlier in the day, he said a national trade association study shows that firework use across the country has increased from 29 million pounds in 1976 to 180 million pounds in 2013. At the same time, injuries have trended downward by about 30 percent.

“Injuries will happen whether we pass this legislation or not,” he said.


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