HARRISBURG— The state needs to rework its 2017 legislation ending the ban on the sale of consumer fireworks to give communities greater authority to outlaw their use, the head of the Pennsylvania Municipal League says.
Act 43 legalized the purchase and use of fireworks, with only a handful of prohibitions.
Those prohibitions include bans against shooting fireworks inside, at or from a motor vehicle or building, using fireworks while intoxicated or shooting them off within 150 feet of an occupied building. They aren’t good enough, said Rick Schuettler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League.
The $100 fine for misuse of fireworks is too small, he said.
“If you spend $500 on fireworks, a $100 fine isn’t going to deter you” Schuettler said.
The House agriculture committee has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday on potential updates to the fireworks law. The legislation, House Bill 1687, would provide new guidance to local governments about how they can regulate fireworks use, set times of the day for fireworks use, and increase the penalties for misuse of fireworks.
House Bill 1687 would bar the use of fireworks after 10 p.m., except on July 2-4, and New Year’s Eve, when fireworks could still be set off until 1 a.m. The legislation would keep the fine for a first offense of misuse of fireworks at $100, but adds a $500 fine a for a second offense.
The legislation is authored by Republican state representatives Frank Farry and Gene DiGirolamo, both of Bucks County.
“Our offices have received many complaints about fireworks activity from residents, especially seniors, veterans, parents with small children, and people with pets. We believe we can make adjustments to the law to help ensure public safety and peace,” the lawmakers wrote in a memo seeking support for the legislation from other lawmakers.
Schuettler said the municipal league will be at the Tuesday hearing and will make suggestions for amendments to the bill.
He called the state’s move to legalize fireworks an “unfunded mandate” because it’s creating extra work for local fire and police.
State Fire Commissioner Bruce Trego said the fireworks law does provide funding for local emergency services. The state collects 12 percent sales tax on the sale of fireworks and one-sixth of that tax is set aside for grants to local emergency responders, according to a summary of the financial impact of Act 43 completed at the time it was passed in the state House.
The state will soon announce $300,000 in fireworks funded grants for fire departments and $900,000 for local EMS agencies, Trego said.
The fire commissioner said he’s not taking a position on whether the law needs to be changed. Tiago said his main interest is in seeing that people using fireworks do so as safely as possible.
He acknowledged though that local officials are complaining that the law is creating problems.
“I’ve heard from a lot of chiefs that they were upset about the number of calls” they’d received due to the use of fireworks.
Trego said the state hasn’t been compiling data on the number of fires reported due to misuse or accidents involving fireworks.
Any attempt to document the scope of the problem is going to be hamstrung by uneven reporting, he said. Local officials may not always describe a fire call in a way that state officials would be able to determine that fireworks were involved, he said.
Schuettler said that improved data would be useful to have to help lawmakers understand the real-world implications of the law.