Proposed Hawaii fireworks ban fizzling out in Legislature
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
A statewide ban on fireworks appears to be fizzling out this year, but state lawmakers are considering a task force on illegal fireworks, increases in fireworks permit fees and fines, and expanded state powers to inspect shipping containers for explosives.
Lawmakers hope the task force and other steps eventually will help contain the spread of illegal fireworks, while encouraging retailers and consumers to be more responsible with legal fireworks.
Excessive New Year's fireworks displays and serious injuries to children prompted calls for new state restrictions, but lawmakers also heard from people who enjoy fireworks and want to preserve local holiday traditions.
State law allows consumer fireworks on New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year's and the Fourth of July. Many of the most extravagant displays, including the loud explosions that often lead to police complaints, involve illegal fireworks.
"At this stage, I'm disappointed that the ban is not moving," said state Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), chairman of the Senate Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee.
A bill that would have established a statewide ban while allowing counties to opt out failed to make yesterday's internal deadline to have bills ready for crossover between the House and Senate next week.
While a ban conceivably could be inserted into another bill later in the session, Espero said that's unlikely.
"If these bills that are alive improve the situation, a ban may not even be necessary," he said.
Lawmakers are moving a bill — SB 1059 — that would create a task force within the State Fire Council to develop a plan to stop the importation of illegal fireworks and explosives.
The task force would be made up of federal and state law enforcement authorities, state transportation and agriculture officials, county police and prosecutors, shipping and trucking interests, and fireworks industry representatives.
The task force would have to present a preliminary plan to the state Legislature by January.
Another bill — SB 2052 — would increase fireworks permit fees and dedicate the revenue from fees to counties for law enforcement. The bill also would increase fines for violating state fireworks law.
Lawmakers are moving a separate bill — SB 2936 — that would allow the state departments of defense, transportation and agriculture to inspect shipping containers for explosives. While the bill is not aimed at fireworks, the state's expanded inspection authority could deter smugglers from shipping illegal fireworks.
HB 1987 would combat illegal fireworks by subjecting people who violate state fireworks law to the potential closure of their businesses or the forfeiture of property.
State Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he is not prepared to move forward with a ban but is interested in the other controls.
"I think if we can stop that importation level then we could, hopefully, see a minimum amount of those illegals coming in, those big ones that are blasting up into the sky," he said. "Those are not your retail versions, those are high-tech, sophisticated bombs."