Fireworks expansion draws mixed reviews in area
Some lawmakers and fire chiefs hope to pour cold water on fireworks expansion talks in Des Moines.
Others would like to light the fuse on a potential revenue stream for the state.
A pyrotechnics expansion bill cleared a Iowa House Ways and Means subcommittee on Monday.
Iowa currently allows the sale and use of non-explosive novelties like sparklers. Roman candles and bottle rockets can't be purchased in the state.
"The only bill that will have any chance of a debate has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee -- probably because it would provide for the taxation of those fireworks," District 1 Sen. David Johnson, an Ocheyedan Republican, said. "The Ways and Means Committee is the tax-writing committee of the House. That's important because the fireworks legalization bill did not make it through the second funnel (the legislative deadline for most policy-related bills)."
Only bills passing through Appropriations and Ways and Means can stay alive for debate after the funnel deadlines pass.
"Because it didn't survive the funnel process, that strikes a heavy blow to the bill," Johnson said. "If it does come to a floor vote in the Senate, I would vote no."
State Rep. Megan Hess, a Spencer Republican, indicated support for a fireworks expansion.
"I have been open to the expansion," Hess said. "That being said, there are a lot of implications with that. There have been a lot of discussion about where the sales tax revenue would go."
Hess also said the bill might include provisions about the quality of buildings used to sell fireworks.
"I think the concern is that 'fireworks shacks' are going to be set up along the roadside and in parking lots," she said. "A lot of times, those aren't really safe."
Hess said retailers would have to comply with fire codes and would be subject to fire inspections as well.
Milford Fire Chief Jim Carpenter said he would not support the proposed expansion.
"I think it's going to cause a lot more work for fire departments and medical people," Carpenter said. "I'm not a real big fan of it. Last Fourth of July, Milford was out on four or five fires caused by fireworks."
Spirit Lake Fire Chief Patrick Daly said he's also had to chase grass fires caused by bottle rockets. "I kind of like it the way we've got it right now, he said.
Arnolds Park/Okoboji Fire Chief Christ Yungbluth is more open to the idea.
"There is not a lot of teeth in the current law," Yungbluth said. "People are bringing them in and shooting them off regardless of the possession law currently in place. I always have concern that it would increase the use -- and of course increase the risk of fires over the Fourth of July."
He encouraged lawmakers to include funding for fireworks safety education.
"We just as well not make these folks criminals and it will also give us an opportunity to maybe provide some safety education and information to hopefully make it safer for them to use ... If we do see them, they don't have to be afraid of us and run and hide. We can actually talk to them about how to use them safely."
Hess thinks the state is losing out on revenue because of the state's fireworks policies.
"What's happening now is, people who want to shoot off fireworks can easily obtain a permit from the county board of supervisors," she said. "They just have to apply and oftentimes it's granted. It's not illegal to possess fireworks. Whenever a permit is authorized, people just go across the border and get them."
Johnson said he is surprised about the lack of feedback from constituents about fireworks expansions.
"Senate District 1 borders South Dakota, where there are legal fireworks sales," he said. "Even there, in my town hall meetings, it just seemed to be a ho-hum issue. That's not to say individual citizens don't set off fireworks -- they probably do -- but what's in place right now seems to work just fine."
There are more important issues to address in the session, the senator added.
"I just don't think we need to change anything," he said.