tampabay.com

Bill would halt fireworks bans

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published March 22, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that would prevent cities and counties from banning firework sales for about 10 months while a task force studies fireworks use and regulation.

State law bans fireworks, except for certain professional and agricultural use, such as frightening birds away from farms and fish hatcheries. Fireworks retailers are supposed to post the law and require customers to sign a form saying they have read it before making a purchase. The law is routinely disregarded, those on both sides of the issue say.

Some local governments, such as Pinellas County, have tougher rules for fireworks sales, requiring sellers to have permits and to keep records showing that customers have special fireworks permits, too.

The legislative fireworks measure, attached to an agricultural bill expected to pass the Senate today, would prevent more cities and counties from passing similar regulations until the task force finishes its report in January.

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-St. Petersburg, sponsored the amendment. He and other advocates say the goal is to freeze the fireworks industry, and its regulation, while the issue is studied.

Opponents, such as the Florida Fire Chiefs Association, say the bill paves the way for the legalization of all fireworks.

"It's a ruse by the industry to put together a task force to study fireworks, in the meantime, they want to stop all cities and counties from enacting ordinances to prohibit the use of fireworks," said Larry Scovotto, the group's executive director.

Local fire chiefs say the legislation poses fire safety problems and ties their hands from enacting emergency rules restricting fireworks, as the state heads into a dry season.

Industry representatives and Jones point out that the commissioner of agriculture can ask the governor to stop the use and sale of fireworks in the event of a bad drought.

"Fireworks are just plain American," said Pete Dunbar, a lobbyist for Phantom Fireworks. Dunbar said the fireworks industry wants the task force to consider rules requiring cleanup and sprinkler systems for retailers.

The House has a companion bill with one last stop before going to the floor.