Floridians as young as 16 would no longer have to “lie” when buying bottle rockets or more-powerful fireworks, under a measure that received backing in the state Senate on Wednesday.
Members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, in a 7-4 vote, supported a measure (SB 314) that acknowledges, rather than eliminates, a much-abused and longstanding loophole in the state’s ban on fireworks.
Currently the law limits sales to relatively innocuous devices such as sparklers, while banning sales of such things as bottle rockets. However, the loophole allows the sale of aerial and explosive devices as long as the individuals buying the fireworks sign a waiver claiming exemptions from the law for certain agricultural purposes.
The proposal would require people to still sign the waiver, but would allow them to declare they are doing so for personal use.
“This is the, ‘We’re done lying’ bill,” committee Chairwoman Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said.
Opponents, including both Flagler County Fire Chief Don Petito and Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle, along with several members of the legislative committee and the state Fire Chiefs Association, contend the proposal could increase injuries and damage from fireworks.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, a Miami Democrat who voted against the measure as she marked her 40th year in the Legislature on Wednesday, said the existing law was crafted after “some really bad scenes” involving fireworks.
Fireworks enthusiast Arie Fry, a 15-year-old Plant City High School freshman, supported Brandes’ proposal as he told the Senate committee that he was unable to find any farmer associations that used fireworks to keep birds from their crops, while admitting his mother, Yvonne Fry, regularly signed the agriculture waiver.
“Our laws on fireworks do not seem to serve the needs of the citizens or the farmers,” Fry said.
“My mom has to sign a form for when we buy fireworks for personal use that says she’s actually going to use them for agricultural use in the state of Florida,” he continued. “If we stick with sparklers, smoke bombs or glow worms, she can stay out of the slammer. … But my mom knows how much I love fireworks, she risks it.”
The measure by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, would allow anyone at least 16 years of age to purchase fireworks and would require buyers to sign a waiver that they are buying the items for personal use and that they understand fireworks are potentially harmful to structures and people.
The bill would require the retailers to have at least $2 million in liability coverage and also allows cities and counties to establish their own regulations on the sale of fireworks.
“If they have concerns, fine, address that at the local level,” Brandes said.
Brandes called the existing state law a “façade” because there is no age limit to purchase fireworks, and retailers are not required to verify why individuals claim they are purchasing the fireworks.
“This bill just says let’s stop the lying, let’s stop the facade,” Brandes said. “People are buying fireworks in communities today, they’re buying fireworks we specifically preempted, that we specifically said we don’t want anybody using except for agricultural purposes.”
He noted that when he went to a stand recently in Hillsborough County, he was able to purchase “mortar” rounds for $80 and “nobody cares whether you’re using them for an agriculture use or not.”
“I heard a bird chirp as I launched them off, and fly away, and clearly that was an agricultural use,” Brandes added.
Brandes said the age limit is in line with other states.
Alabama has a minimum age of 16 for fireworks purchases. In Georgia, the age is 18.
Wayne Watts, representing the Fire Chiefs Association, noted the damage that can be done by fireworks as he questioned the proposed age limit.
“I have a son who is 18 years old, he’s a responsible young man, he’s a scout, he’s been raised properly. But even at 18 years old he doesn’t have the restraint at times to use these responsibly,” Watts said. “We’re talking about taking something that can have just as much damage as a gunshot and putting it in the hands of 16-year-olds.”
The Brandes proposal doesn’t go as far as a measure (HB 4005) by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.
Gaetz’ proposal, which was postponed before a scheduled appearance Wednesday at the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, would eliminate state restrictions on sales of fireworks, eliminate the definition of “sparklers” and “fireworks” from the law, make all fireworks legal in Florida unless prohibited by federal law and eliminate the role of the state Fire Marshal in testing and approving fireworks.
Gaetz has said his proposal was crafted with the intent of cutting down on Floridians, particularly those in the Panhandle, from traveling into neighboring states to purchase explosive and aerial fireworks.
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida
Sgt. Steel says
Great……Now I have to worry about my 30 year old neighbor trying to impress the neighborhood with his ability ( or lack of ) to light a bottle rocket and send it onto my roof………Thanks Genius !
NOT IN PALM COAST
From the Palm Coast Codes and Ordinances. (Sounds like they still will not be permitted in the City – and that a good thing as far as I’m concerned.)
Sec. 25-141. Use of fireworks.
It is prohibited and unlawful for a person or entity to use, explode, or store, fireworks in the City, unless:
The person or entity first obtains all appropriate permits for the display of fireworks or pyrotechnics; or
The use is by a railroad or other transporting agency for illumination or signal purposes or the use is associated with quarrying, blasting, or another industrial purpose in accordance with Section 791.04, Florida Statutes; or
The use in conjunction with a bona fide agricultural use, as provided in Section 791.07, Florida Statutes.
(Ord. No. 06-22, § 7, 12-5-06)
One July I was staying at a hotel in Daytona Beach and carrying my toddler through the downstairs breezeway when three cops came running around the corner full speed and almost plowed me over. When a fourth cop pulled up with lights on and got out of her patrol car I asked her what was happening and she screamed “Somebody is on the beach lighting fireworks!!!!!!” and started running to join the other cops, baton in one hand, flashlight in the other. I felt like I was watching a live bank robbery pursuit.
It was a true WTF moment for me and one of the pivotal times in my life where I came to realize just how ludicrous many laws, and the enforcement thereof, really are. It’s hard to respect the law and those who enforce it when that law seems so superfluous. I think most average law abiding citizens, when they realize they can’t fix a dumb law, just ignore it.
As for the negative consequences of fireworks… well you can’t fix stupid. Making a law isn’t going to stop stupid people from doing stupid things. If someone is intent on blowing their fingers off with an M-80 it’s going to happen whether or not they signed an agricultural use exemption.
Say What? says
To quote Joe Dirt… You’re gonna stand there, ownin’ a fireworks stand, and tell me you don’t have no whistlin’ bungholes, no spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, with or without the scooter stick, or one single whistlin’ kitty chaser?
The fireworks laws in FL are a joke. PC is one huge explosion during pretty much any holiday and no one does a thing to stop it. During the summer holidays, it gets even worse. Idiots buying tons of explosives so they can get drunk and blow up the neighborhood. A beer can in one hand, a lighter in the other. When they allow a huge fireworks tent to set-up in the Wal-Mart parking lot, what else would you expect?! PC needs to ban AND enforce any explosive that leaves the ground, as our homes are built way too close together to allow bottle rockets to be flying through the air.
I like it they are fun BUT should be limited in time when one can use them both in the clock and calender year.
joe dirt says
Who cares? Regardless of what the law is people are still going to use fireworks and use them in the city illegally or legally. As for them enforcing it good luck with that. People don’t care just like parking in the swale overnight not supposed to do that and its still done