Committee tables fireworks restriction bills after voting to support them

Posted March 18, 2013, at 6:57 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee Monday agreed to delay action on four bills that would add restrictions to Maine’s year-old law that allows the sale of consumer fireworks after voting minutes earlier in favor of some of the new restrictions.

The decision by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee followed a series of party-line votes in support of imposing the new restrictions, with majority Democrats supporting them and Republicans on the panel in opposition.

Those votes came on the heels of debate in which the panel’s Republicans said they wanted to defend the state’s evolving consumer fireworks industry and allow towns and cities to craft their own restrictions. Democrats said they wanted to address quality-of-life concerns following a summer in which amateur fireworks technicians set the explosives off, in some cases, on a nightly basis.

“It’s not that I don’t understand the concerns that people have brought forward and don’t appreciate them,” said Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta. “For me, what it boils down to is, people have invested significant amounts of money into the fireworks industry. People have put their necks on the line because the Legislature said, ‘Go ahead.’”

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled 125th Legislature repealed Maine’s 62-year-old ban on consumer fireworks in 2011 following largely party-line votes. The law allows towns and cities to pass individual bans and restrictions on fireworks use.

The summer of 2012 was the first in which consumer fireworks were legal in the state, as they are in 34 others, including neighboring New Hampshire.

The restrictions initially approved by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee’s Democrats on Monday would have prohibited the discharge of consumer fireworks within a mile of a pasture with live animals, allowed the use of fireworks until 9 p.m. nightly rather than the current 10 p.m. cutoff, and required anyone using consumer fireworks obtain a local permit.

A fourth measure, which the committee didn’t vote on, would have allowed the committee to draw up legislation establishing “reasonable restrictions” on the use of consumer fireworks.

Another bill, LD 111, is pending that would completely repeal the state’s new consumer fireworks law.

“Last year, we had a flip in government. We had a party-line vote that created fireworks, let people get into the business of fireworks,” said Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, who chairs the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “As what happens many times, you have growing pains. Now we have constituents who are happy and constituents who are upset.”

Gerzofsky proposed Monday that the legislative committee appoint a study group to craft compromise legislation after weighing the concerns of fireworks businesses, annoyed residents, fire officials and others.

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