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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hawaii fireworks bill would give counties option to impose ban

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Lacking support for a statewide ban on fireworks, state lawmakers may give counties the option of deciding the issue.

The state House yesterday added the county option to a bill that would create an illegal-fireworks task force. A vote on the bill is expected tomorrow. House and Senate negotiators would then work on a final draft.

"It would be home rule, basically," said state Rep. Faye Hanohano, D-4th (Puna, Pāhoa, Hawaiian Acres), chairwoman of the House Public Safety Committee.

A statewide ban on fireworks with an opt-out provision for counties failed to advance in the state Senate.

If Hanohano's proposal passes, state law would essentially revert back to the way it was before 1994, when lawmakers approved a statewide fireworks law to bring uniformity to various county regulations.

Some lawmakers who favor a statewide ban have cautioned about the potential for black-market sales and the interisland smuggling of fireworks if the law varies between counties. But others say county leaders, not the state, are in a better position to know whether people want a ban.

"The home-rule issues need to be respected," said state Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (E. Maui, Moloka'i, Lāna'i).

State law allows consumer fireworks on New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July. Residents have complained of excessive smoke and noise from fireworks and that people light them outside the designated holidays.

Many residents also cite the widespread use of dangerous aerials and other illegal pyrotechnics, and argue that a lack of enforcement has led to excessive fireworks displays.

Honolulu police and fire authorities have called for a statewide ban.

"I applaud the House decision to allow the counties to decide for themselves on a fireworks ban," Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said in an e-mail to The Advertiser. "This supports the concept of home rule, and each county should decide for itself how best to regulate fireworks."

Big Island Fire Chief Darryl Oliveira, in a letter Monday to the Senate, said he supports a statewide ban with exceptions for special events and professional fireworks displays. But he also backed home rule that "would allow each county to determine the potential hazards of fireworks and the benefit to their community and permit further restricting fireworks use based on each county's needs and resources."

Oliveira also supported tougher penalties on illegal fireworks use and gradually increasing random inspections of shipping containers to help control illegal imports.

State Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Kaimukī, Wai'alae, Kāhala), who wants a statewide ban, said giving the counties the option is better than just creating a task force.

"It's a little better, because, theoretically, all four counties can ban fireworks," she said. "Realistically, I don't see that happening."