The story of the Great Spencer Fire is one of legend, and is often referenced as the reason why Iowa still prohibits the sale and use of consumer fireworks. While the link between the catastrophic blaze and the legality of fireworks is ambiguous, at best, it may soon become a moot point.
Republicans and Democrats alike have rolled out bills aimed at ending the ban. Some of those bills are more restrictive than others, but the bottom line is this: Iowans could be celebrating a lot more than their nation’s independence from Great Britain on July 4.
The first of the fireworks-related bills was Senate File 96, which was offered by state Sen. Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) on Jan. 28. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on State Government, and then yesterday, it was referred to a subcommittee consisting of committee chairman Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Waterloo), Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa), and Sen. Jake Chapman (R-Adel).
Chapman is perhaps one of the biggest proponents for repealing the fireworks ban in the General Assembly.
SF 96 would allow the sale of consumer fireworks to anyone over the age of 18 who possessed a permit from the state to do so. The day after that bill was offered, state Sen. Randy Feenstra (R-Hull) offered Senate File 120, which removed all but the age restriction from the previous piece of legislation.
That bill was also referred to the Senate Committee on State Government. Yesterday, it, too, was forwarded to the subcommittee consisting of Danielson, Bowman, and Chapman.
Today, that subcommittee filed Senate Study Bill 1135, which follows the less-restrictive use provisions of SF 120, but also includes licensing and regulation provisions for those who would sell consumer fireworks in Iowa. As of this writing, the bill has not yet been offered for consideration by the Senate.
“I think we have a great chance this year,” Chapman said when asked if the bipartisan bill could be passed this session.
SSB 1135, if enacted, would go into effect June 1 of this year. It empowers the State Fire Marshal with the authority to enforce all laws and rules with regard to the storage, transportation, handling, and use of fireworks.
The bill retains all current restrictions on display fireworks – those used for large pyrotechnic shows such as those put on by most communities during the Independence Day celebration and other community celebrations. It also provides new definitions for “novelties” and “consumer fireworks.”
SSB 1135 requires the State Fire Marshal to establish a consumer fireworks seller license, which will be required to legally sell consumer fireworks in the state. There will be two classes of fireworks sellers: those who devote 50 percent or more of their floor space to the display of fireworks and those who devote less than 50 percent to the display of fireworks.
The annual licensing fee is $400 for the former, and $200 for the latter, under the proposed legislation. Community groups that sell first-class consumer fireworks would be required to pay the $200 annual licensing fee, retailers and community groups that sell only second-class fireworks would be required to pay a $25 licensing fee.
The fees would go into a fund to pay for the State Fire Marshal’s enforcement of the new rules and provisions established by the proposed legislation.
SSB 1135 would also require the State Fire Marshal to adopt rules to require that licensed retailers and community groups only offer consumer fireworks for sale in accordance with specified industry standards. It would also require that retailers and community groups provide proof of and maintain public liability insurance.
The bill would allow for year-round sale of fireworks in permanent buildings, or for sales from June 13 to July 11 each year in a temporary structure. It also provides the State Fire Marshal with the authority to suspend the use of fireworks if their use would constitute a threat to public safety, much they way open burning may be prohibited from time to time due to drought or atmospheric conditions.
SSB 1135 also restricts the use of consumer fireworks to between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., except on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and New Year’s Eve and weekend days nearest those holidays. On those days, fireworks may be used between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. the next day.
“I think we are taking a reasonable and responsible approach to have a system that can be properly regulated and enforced, which promotes safety and education,” Chapman said about the bill. “It is time for us to modernize our laws and join the ranks of some 42 other states.”