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Committee puts safety fears aside, approves fireworks expansion

House Photography file photo

Perceived safety fears did not dissuade a House committee from approving a bill that would legalize what is already a mid-summer tradition for many Minnesotans.

As of now, party poppers, snappers, toy smoke devices, snakes, glow worms or sparklers are legal for people celebrating the Fourth of July.

Despite objections from the state fire marshal and others, the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee approved a bill Thursday — on a split-voice vote — that would expand legal fireworks in Minnesota.

Sponsored by Rep. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), HF1089, as amended, would limit the sale and use of aerial and audible devices — including bottle rockets and firecrackers — from June 1 to July 10 each year. Local governments would have the ability to restrict the sale and use of such fireworks and establish times during the day when they may be used.

Fireworks would need to be used on private property, and purchasers and users would need to be at least 18 years old.

House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee 3/10/16

The bill now awaits action by the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. A companion, SF465, sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a similar bill in 2012, primarily over safety concerns.

“The chair will give his personal assurance, if you vote ‘yes’ for this bill, the sky will not fall, the world will not end, Armageddon will not take place,” said Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), the committee chair.

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

As in years past, some of the discussion pitted the freedom of Minnesotans against safety concerns.

Among arguments made by opponents were user and spectator safety, especially innocent bystanders who could be hurt due to someone else’s carelessness.

“Even with well-supervised fireworks, use is exceedingly dangerous,” said State Fire Marshal Bruce West. He said fireworks injuries have increased by 117 percent from 2002 to 2014, with 50 percent of those being to people age 19 and younger and 22 percent were age 9 or younger.

West estimated that 30 percent of the injuries were from sparkler use, which is currently legal.

“Perhaps in a perfect world we’d be discussing why we’re not getting rid of the sparklers rather than why we’re trying to expand things further,” said Dr. William Mohr, a burn surgeon at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

Other opponents spoke 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.

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