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Leaders warm to fireworks ordinance

The County Commission tilts toward stricter enforcement of the state law limiting fireworks sales.

By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published June 24, 2003

Tonight's much anticipated debate over the sale of illegal fireworks in Pinellas County may not be explosive after all.

At least three commissioners said Monday they will support an ordinance seeking stricter enforcement of the state law regulating retail fireworks sales. A fourth commissioner said he cannot perceive voting against it. But Commissioner Bob Stewart said he will wait to hear arguments made by opponents - chiefly representatives from the pyrotechnics industry - before he makes up his mind.

"But there has to be a pretty persuasive argument against it," Stewart said Monday. "If I had to vote right now, I would have to vote in favor of putting the ordinance in place."

Should Stewart not be swayed, he would join Commissioners Ken Welch, Karen Seel and John Morroni in calling for stricter enforcement of a law many see as ineffective. That would be four "yes" votes, enough for a majority needed to pass the ordinance.

A large crowd is expected at the meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. at the downtown Clearwater Courthouse. In considering the ordinance, which was proposed by Welch, commissioners have labored over balancing personal freedom with public safety.

But in the end, a majority appears to be leaning away from liberty and closer toward the law.

"While I have thoughts about America and the Fourth of July, the law is the law," said Morroni, who made up his mind Monday. "And unless the Legislature changes it, they are illegal."

If approved, retailers would need a permit to sell fireworks after Aug. 1 and would also have to keep records proving their customers had a legal right to purchase fireworks.

Under the state law, the use of fireworks is limited to professionals. However the state allows a few exceptions for unusual circumstances, such as frightening birds away from farms and fish hatcheries.

Currently the burden falls on the consumer. Many retailers post the law and require their customers to sign a form saying they have read it before making a purchase.

Commissioner Calvin Harris has said he won't support the ordinance. He sees it as government infringing on personal freedom. Also, people simply will cross into Pasco County or Hillsborough County to buy fireworks, he said.

"If the state thinks fireworks should not be sold, then they ought to ban them," Harris said.

Other commissioners say such a law exists and it's local government's responsibility to enforce it.

"Fireworks are illegal, unless you meet the exceptions," Morroni said. "If we don't (pass the ordinance), it's almost a mockery of the law."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at 445-4162 or sandler@sptimes.com

[Last modified June 24, 2003, 01:47:56]


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