May 26, 2020
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‘You can’t fix stupid’: Maine legislative panel rejects stricter fireworks laws

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Revelers watch fireworks on the sand in Old Orchard Beach on Dec. 31, 2013, as temperatures plunged into single digits.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Failing to clean up the debris after a private fireworks show could more easily result in a littering fine if a bill approved Monday by the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee becomes law.

The measure specifically adds fireworks debris to the state’s littering laws.

However, the committee rejected a handful of other proposals that would have tightened regulation around fireworks, including a bill that makes it easier to charge somebody with disorderly conduct when they misuse fireworks.

Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, a member of the committee, said the proposal to classify misuse of fireworks as disorderly conduct would conflict with local ordinances.

“I have a major concern about the unreasonable noise piece of this in relation to municipal ordinances,” he said. “Because if you are going to fire off a firework, guess what? It’s going to cause a noise. How do you define unreasonable noise? If a municipality says you can fire off a noise between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. then you can fire off a firework between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m.”

The committee also watered down portions of the bill that would have made it clear that when the governor bans outdoor fires because of the high forest fire risks, the use of fireworks would be included in that prohibition.

Instead they voted to allow the governor to determine if fireworks would be banned under a proclamation banning outdoor fires by adding consumer fireworks to the list of things the governor could ban under such conditions.

A written statement from a staff attorney for Republican Gov. Paul LePage said LePage opposes the change because state law already allows the governor to ban any other “human activity” that could increase the risk of wildfires.

Lawmakers said the portions of the bills they rejected were already covered under state laws.

But committee members seemed interested in making sure the governor could spell out that fireworks are banned when taking steps to minimize wildfire risks.

Rep. Tim Theriault, R-China, a fire chief, said regardless of what laws are on the books regarding fires and fireworks, there would always be some who didn’t abide by them.

“You can’t fix stupid,” Theriault said. He said he issues burn permits in his town and each year has to respond to fires that were lit when they shouldn’t have been.

“You can’t fix people that do things that they shouldn’t,” Theriault said. “We have posted speed limits and people speed every day. I’m just trying to remind people you are not fixing anything because people that want to do something stupid do stupid things.”

Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, a retired fire chief, agreed with Theriault.

“You can’t regulate stupidity and that’s understood,” Lajoie said.

Lajoie also said those selling consumer fireworks in Maine had been responsible in trying to educate consumers about their proper use.

“The fireworks industry in our state has been very, very responsible and they have done everything they can before those fireworks go up. They can only do so much,” Lajoie said.

But Lajoie also said that if a specific mention of fireworks was not added into laws about littering and fire bans, it would be harder to prosecute people who break the law.

“The commercial fireworks industry makes a point of cleaning up as much debris as they possibly can so it doesn’t disrupt the community, and here we have individuals that use consumer fireworks that are not as thoughtful,” Lajoie said.

The final language of the bills that were approved Monday will be reviewed once more by the committee before they are passed on to the full Legislature for a vote in the weeks ahead.

 


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