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County outlaws sale of fireworks

The county attorney, who suggested a public hearing, warns that the move will result in a lawsuit.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pat Mulieri knew one angry person she'd hear from this week.

"I have a 14-year-old grandchild who's going to call me up tomorrow and say, "Grandma, you ruined my life,' " the County Commission chairwoman said Tuesday night, minutes before commissioners banned the sale of fireworks until the drought ends.

Actually, Mulieri's grandson Michael Winans just turned 15. And he surprised his grandmother by supporting her position on the ban.

"I love fireworks," Winans, who will be a sophomore next year at River Ridge High School, said Wednesday.

"(But) it's still pretty good that they banned them because there was a great big fire by my house," he added.

Mulieri and her fellow commissioners have seen several large fires in recent days, including one that consumed several hundred acres off of State Road 52 near Moon Lake Road.

That's why they ignored the advice of County Attorney Robert Sumner and on Tuesday expanded their ban to sales of fireworks for private use. Sumner wanted them to drop the proposed ban or delay at least a week to hold a public hearing.

"I think there is a constitutional right to due process. I think if you are going to put someone out of business, you should have a public hearing," Sumner said.

"I think if we do this (ban) there will be litigation," Sumner said.

Members of the fireworks industry have threatened to sue the county if such a ban were adopted.

Commissioners shrugged.

"I can't remember three days when we went without the threat of litigation," Commissioner Steve Simon said. "That dog don't bite no more."

Besides, he added, the use of fireworks is illegal other than for a legitimate agricultural purpose -- such as scaring away birds -- which is why buyers must sign a statement saying they plan to use the fireworks for that purpose.

"The whole industry is making liars out of everyone who's buying these," Simon said, adding that he doubted any fireworks company could prove to a judge that they had a loss of revenue from legitimate agricultural interests.

The ban adopted Tuesday applies to both fireworks and sparklers but does not affect organized displays. It lasts for 7 days, but can be extended in 72-hour increments by Mulieri.

-- Staff writer Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulferts@sptimes.com.

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