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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 5, 2010

Hawaii Legislature considering new restrictions on fireworks

Advertiser Staff

In the aftermath of a New Year's Eve that saw record fireworks-related injuries requiring emergency room attention, lawmakers heard several bills yesterday that would either place a total ban on consumer fireworks or allow the state's four counties to enact their own ordinances regulating pyrotechnics.

Of the five fireworks-related bills that were heard by lawmakers yesterday, only two appeared to be alive at the end of the day.

The House Public Safety Committee advanced House Bill 2068, which would allow counties to enact their own fireworks ordinances. This approach acknowledges that while there is a strong sentiment on O'ahu to totally ban fireworks, there is opposition to a ban on some of the Neighbor Islands.

The Senate Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs postponed a decision on Senate Bill 2365 until Tuesday. That bill would impose a total ban on consumer fireworks, including firecrackers and novelty items such as fireworks fountains. Exceptions would be made for permitted religious or cultural events.

Those who support a total ban on fireworks say many neighborhoods, especially on O'ahu, often become clouded in thick noxious fumes that are dangerous for the elderly and asthmatics. Opponents cite the excessive noise and the use of novelty or consumer fireworks in the construction of illegal improvised explosive devices.

Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades), supports a total ban and introduced a "home rule" bill in the House that would allow individual counties to craft their own fireworks laws. His version of the bill, which had a two-year lifespan, was deferred. Another version of the bill House Bill 2068 which would have a permanent ban, was passed out of the House Public Safety Committee.

"There are a whole flurry of fireworks bills this year that run the gamut ," Takumi said. "Every year it has gotten worse in terms of people setting it off earlier and earlier, and secondly the intensity of the illegal fireworks."

The Senate Committee on Public Safety and Military Affairs heard testimony for and against a total ban on consumer fireworks. Committee Chairman Will Espero held back decision-making on the bill until Tuesday.

Richard Botti, a lobbyist for a fireworks distributors and retailers, told lawmakers that a total ban on consumer fireworks would not put an end to the illegal aerials and home-concocted concussion bombs that have become prevalent .

"Aerial fireworks are already illegal. So this is where the problem lies," Botti said. "Creating a total ban is just going to take over 2 million away from the state and give it to the black market. The problem is enforcement of existing laws."

Police issued 93 citations from Dec. 30 through Jan. 1, up from 14 last year, according to the Honolulu Police Department. Meanwhile, there were 1,860 fireworks-related complaints taken by HPD from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, up from 1,361 complaints last year.

Both Honolulu Police Department and Honolulu Fire Department officials reiterated their calls for a total ban on fireworks.

HPD Maj. Michael Moses said officers are overwhelmed with fireworks complaints on New Year's Eve and compared their efforts to battlefield "triage."

"We're running from one call to another, putting a Band-Aid here and a Band-Aid there. Our resources are spread thin and we're unable to dedicate enough time to investigate what is happening out there," Moses said.

Moses said a ban on fireworks would make it easier to cite those using illegal pyrotechnics.