Pa. lawmakers out of ‘oohs and aahs’ as they look to rework 2017 fireworks law

Pennsylvania Politics

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — New Year’s Day is just over two weeks away and fireworks will no doubt fill the skies of Pennsylvania, much to the dismay of public officials and many citizens. The 2017 law legalizing those high-grade fireworks was debated today at a special hearing of both the House and Senate.

Aerial fireworks have been exploding. Lawmakers’ phones have been blowing up. “This has really been problematic,” Senator Judy Schwank (D) said. Politicians met for a rare joint hearing on the 2017 fireworks law that legalized powerful, aerial displays in Pennsylvania. “We’re discussing how to fix a problem that we solely created when we enacted the new fireworks law.”

There’s been some death, some destruction, and lots of aggravation. “In some townships, consumer fireworks are used seven days a week, day and night sometimes well into early morning hours prompting a rash of complaints,” Joe Gerdes of Pa. Association of Township Supervisors said.

“Consumer fireworks have recently resulted in injuries to first responders when intentionally used as a weapon,” Jerry Harper of the State Police Fire Marshal Unit said.

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The top legal tweak requested? Letting local jurisdictions make their own rules regarding fireworks, including banning them or limiting hours. And they want that power spelled out in law. “Because the last thing we want to do is face a challenge and all the thousands of dollars equated with that and the bad press,” Ed Troxell of the Pennsylvania Council of Borough said.

Senator Gene Yaw’s bill expanded fireworks. He supports them and says most of the carnage is caused by user error. “We cannot legislate common sense or against stupidity,” Senator Gene Yaw (R) said.

“In every one of our isles is a how-to card showing you how to use fireworks safely,” Danial Peart of Phantom Fireworks said. Phantom Fireworks has 14 stores in Pa. He says used properly, fireworks are safe, entertaining, and popular. He knows in this hearing that’s the minority view. “If you’re bringing a group of firefighters in to comment on a fireworks law it’s like bringing a couple of cats to come in and comment on an election for a dog.”

Fireworks are heavily taxed and have generated about $11 million for the state. “Has this been worth it? I don’t think so,” Schwank said.

“I don’t think fireworks are a bad thing but I think they need to be regulated and people need to be educated on them,” Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) said.

Moul says there will be changes to the law, though not making them illegal, and they’ll begin working on those fixes early in the new year.

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