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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 17, 2010

AFTER DEADLINE
On fireworks, lead or get out of the way


By Mark Platte

Reporter Christie Wilson was assigned to get to the bottom of what was holding up a ban or restriction on legal or illegal fireworks and she came back a week ago today with the most comprehensive look yet at why nothing has happened: little organized opposition and a lack of political will.

State Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach), said it has been impossible to secure a ban "because there are many residents who support a ban and many who are against it, so the Legislature is getting mixed signals."

Fireworks lobbyist Richard Botti was quoted as saying those who want a ban and those who don't is split 50-50.

Nowhere in the story, nor in the countless letters to the editor we have run, has anyone identified the constituency for legal and illegal fireworks.

Public opinion that we have run across is more reflective of our Dec. 31 editorial page. Our editorial ("Public must rally against illegal fireworks") was accompanied by four letters ("Raise permit fees until ban in place," "Nightmare goes on and lawmakers let it," "Breathe easier, skip the fireworks," and "Homemade bombs a noisy danger.")

Even if there is a 50-50 split, does that mean that the rights of the half who want to make noise, pollute the air, frighten and annoy residents and pets and potentially endanger others trump the rights of the half who don't want to be bothered by these reckless celebrations?

Compare it to the smoking ban in 2006, which took two decades to enact before lawmakers made it illegal to smoke in enclosed public places and forced smokers to move 20 feet from any public building. Sure, Hawai'i was the 14th state to enact such a wide-ranging ban but it works and we're all wondering what took so long.

Since July 1, a new city law has prohibited drivers from operating hand-held electronic communication or entertainment devices while their engines are running. Hands-free devices are allowed, but hand-held phones, texting devices, laptops, video games and personal digital assistants all fall under the ban. And that's a law that didn't take years of study before it was enacted.

Politicians often react to the masses and as Wilson's article pointed out, the anti-fireworks crowd is fragmented and easy for elected officials to ignore until New Year's Eve rolls around again. Apparently the injuries to 112 people this New Year's, half of them children and the highest total since records were kept a decade ago, has made no impact on lawmakers.

Chris Blanchard, chief of staff at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, who has asked the state and city for help with the problem, hit the nail on the head.

"As a veteran of 26 years of active-duty military service including three combat deployments, I can assure you that the noise generated by homemade and modified fireworks routinely exceeds that produced by many of the weapons systems employed by the military," he wrote. "The same can be said for the attendant smoke."

When Hawai'i residents are prisoners in their own homes with windows shut and air conditioners cranked up or worse, have to ship out to hotels to escape the smoke and noise it's time to take a stand. State legislators, get to work or hand control of the situation back to our local governments, which might just be able to get something done.

Mark Platte is senior vice president and editor of The Advertiser. Reach him at 525-8080 or e-mail him at mplatte@honoluluadvertiser.com. Or follow his Twitter updates at www.twitter.com/markplatte.