Minnesota laws are changing. First it was Sunday sales – now a bill to legalize more fireworks is making moves.
The bill would expand the state's list of legal fireworks to include “aerial and audible devices” like bottle rockets, firecrackers, and Roman candles. They’d be available to purchase year-round in permanent spaces that meet certain safety requirements, or for 60 days in temporary tents.
It was approved in a narrow 9-8 vote by the House Government Operations and Elections Policy committee Friday, and is now heading to a vote in the House, MPR reports.
Author of the bill Rep. Jason Rarick told the site local officials would still get to decide what kind of fireworks are available in their communities, to satisfy concerns that fireworks are not appropriate for all parts of the state.
“Of the people that contact me that are opposed to this, the main reason they give is ‘this just does not fit in my area,’” Rarick said. “We address that in the bill by allowing the local municipalities, whether it be cities, townships or even counties, to ban use and or sales within their jurisdictions.”
Opposition to the bill also comes from several firefighting organizations, with State Fire Marshal Bruce West telling lawmakers that fireworks injuries have increased 120 percent since sparkers and other non-aerial fireworks were legalized in Minnesota in 2002, KSTP said.
And then there's Gov. Mark Dayton. When similar legislation passed the Minnesota House and Senate in 2012, it was vetoed by Dayton, in part because public safety officials were against it.
But Rarick and proponents of the bill continue to argue that if Minnesotans can't buy fireworks here, they'll just get them from Wisconsin or South Dakota – which sounds an awful lot like the argument for Sunday sales.
“I stopped by one of these businesses last year on July 2 and asked them approximately how many people that you’re selling to are from Minnesota. Their response was about 80 percent,” Rarick told the House committee.
The Senate has a version of the bill and it was referred to committee, but it hasn’t gone anywhere.
Fireworks in Minnesota
It's been 15 years since novelty fireworks were legalized in Minnesota.
But that law only allows for sparklers and other novelty devices – none of those big, booming fireworks we go to watch at city displays.
Still, the Department of Public Safety says novelty fireworks have caused plenty of damage since then. Immediately after novelties were legalized, the fireworks injury rate rose from 20 in 2001 to 92 in 2002, the department says, and those are only the injuries reported by emergency rooms and other treatment facilities.
The people most affected by fireworks injuries are consistently children between 10 and 19 years of age, the department added.
It's not just injuries they're worried about. The department says fireworks damage cost Minnesotans about $4.7 million in property damages from 2001 to 2010.