BANGOR, Maine — Three days before Independence Day, Gov. Paul LePage came to the Bangor Waterfront to sign two bills into law that offer Maine residents more ways to celebrate that independence.
“I want to remind you all that because I’ve signed it now doesn’t mean you can go buy firecrackers,” LePage said after signing both bills before a crowd of 30 officials and residents just after 11 a.m. Friday. “You’ve got to wait until January.”
LD 83, An Act to Legalize the Sale, Possession and Use of Fireworks, and LD 1418, An Act to Allow Table Games at a Facility Licensed to Operate Slot Machines on Jan. 1, 2011, both became official, but the laws won’t become effective until Jan. 2, 2012.
Still, the event was cause for celebration for Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, who sponsored both bills in the Maine House of Representatives.
“This is also a jobs bill. We’ll be hiring people to sell [fireworks] around the state and it’ll be a revenue builder for Maine,” Damon said. “And what better thing can we be doing on a day like today than exercising our constitutional rights? And fireworks for the people of Maine is part of those rights.”
LD 83 legalizes many types of fireworks throughout the state, but allows towns to forbid their sale and use. In those towns, fireworks will be legal to possess, just not to use.
Some of Damon’s constituents, and even some nonconstituents, celebrated the bill’s signing.
“It’s come up several years in a row, but never really got much legs under prior leadership and administrations, but this time it just took off like a rocket, no pun intended,” joked Jeff Zimba of Fairfield, who drove to Bangor with son Nicholas to witness the waterfront signing ceremony.
Zimba has a unique perspective on the legalization of fireworks.
“I’m an explosives licensee myself and work for the state, using explosives for work,” said Zimba, who is also a Boy Scouts den leader. “The ones I use for work are much larger than the little, consumer grade fireworks that are illegal, so we always thought that was kind of silly.”
LePage and Damon also spoke to the issue of fireworks safety.
“There are very important safety provisions in the law,” LePage said. “Fireworks can be very dangerous. However, if people are taught how to handle and use them properly, they can be safe and very recreational and enjoyed by families in Maine.”
“The accident rate actually goes down in states where fireworks have been legalized,”
said Damon, who added that the Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association supported the bill. “I think it’s in Indiana where the accident rate went way down after they legalized them.”
On the gambling front, Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway already is readying itself for the introduction of table games such as roulette, poker and craps.
“We’ll initially have four poker tables and 10 conventional table games like craps, roulette, blackjack and three-card poker,” said John Osborne, Hollywood Slots general manager. “We’ll bring the games in and test them for customer acceptance, and then adjust accordingly as far as the mix and the number of games as to their preferences.”
The voters of Penobscot County will have to approve the tables in a November referendum before games actually are allowed at the Main Street complex.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from people in the county and we’re optimistic the vote will be successful,” Osborne said.
Hollywood Slots is licensed to operate 1,500 slot machines. Table games, supporters say, are needed to give patrons of the Bangor facility more options.
Signing the bill authorizing table games was a stark contrast to Gov. LePage’s pronouncement that he would veto the bill a little over a week ago.
“We were negotiating with Veterans and Legal Affairs, which the governor wasn’t aware of, but once he became aware of that, he was amenable to sending it out to a countywide vote,” said Osborne. “We have agreed to pay the state $100,000 for each table game we introduce with a 16 percent tax rate and $1,000 annual fee for each game [table].”