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Posted: June 29, 2013 6:12 p.m.

New bill could OK fireworks, but not yet

There’s a movement in the state legislature to legalize the sale and consumer use of bigger fireworks, but in 2013 — and most likely 2014 — Georgia residents who use fireworks that explode or shoot in the air will be breaking the law.

Georgia has strict fireworks prohibitions compared with its neighboring states and only allows some sparklers, trick noise makers and drop pops to be sold to and used by regular consumers, and local public safety officials urge residents to follow the law and be safe.

Current law
For years Georgia did not allow any types of firework to be sold in the state, but in 2005, the Georgia General Assembly allowed some types of sparklers and small-charge sparkling fountains (check the box for the official state law).

Officials from both the Newton County Sheriff’s Office and Covington Police Department said they respond to calls about residents illegally firing fireworks, and if they find evidence of such illegal use, they either warn the people involved or issue a citation if warranted.

“We deal with each situation individually; a lot of it depends on the level of danger present,” said sheriff’s office Capt. Keith Crum. “If somebody is shooting fireworks off in the middle of a parking lot, that’s a lot less dangerous as opposed to someone shooting Roman candles in the woods with tinder in it.”

Covington Police Lt. Al Miller agreed, saying the city doesn’t get many calls for illegal fireworks, but will either “handle the situation by issuing a courtesy warning (upon initial contact) or by issuing a citation, depending on the circumstances.”

The sale and use of illegal fireworks are punishable by a maximum fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail, according to the Office of the Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner.

Crum said if there are children illegally setting off fireworks, the responding deputy will try to get a parent involved before charging anyone with a crime. Plus, given the demands on law enforcement personnel, deputies don’t want to be detained, having to bag evidence and write up charges when more pressing needs might come up.

“We would prefer residents police themselves,” Crum said. “Most people we tell to stop, stop, and most folks who are horse-playing, when they see our presence, go ahead and conclude whatever they are doing.

We very rarely have people who get warned and are defiant.”

Crum said the sheriff’s office would have a few extra officers on duty July 4.

“Our goal is to make sure this is as safe of a holiday observance as it can be. We remind everyone they need to beware of other folks in the area; it’s not them just them. People need to be aware of the safety of others.”

If people are going to drink alcohol, Crum urged them to drink moderately; officials annually recommend not mixing alcohol and fireworks.

Proposed law
Given the fact that many Georgians simply cross the border to Alabama, South Carolina, or Tennessee to purchase fireworks, efforts to legalize more fireworks have popped up over the years, but this year’s push seemed like the strongest yet.

Senate Bill 229 would legalize the sale and use of consumer fireworks in Georgia with the caveat of a 6 percent tax with proceeds split 50-50 between the Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission, which funds emergency rooms statewide, and the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council.

In addition, cities and counties also would be allowed to add a 1 percent tax on fireworks sales, with revenue going to public safety budgets. Local governments could also choose not to allow fireworks sales in their jurisdictions.

The bill was never voted on in the State Senate, but is expected to be picked up again next session.

A companion resolution, Senate Resolution 378, which was passed by the Senate in March but wasn’t voted on by the House, would give Georgia voters the decision to amend the state’s constitution to denote that fireworks sales tax funding go to trauma care and firefighter training. The amendment would be on the November 2014 ballot. It is estimated that the 6 percent sales tax would raise $2.5 million to $10 million annually.

According to previous stories by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta opposed the legislation, while the state’s fire marshal expressed concerns and recommended a more restrictive bill if more fireworks were going to be made legal.

County Fire Marshal Brad Stapp said he does not support any efforts to legalize more fireworks.

“Fireworks are unpredictable and easily obtainable once legalized,” Stapp said in an email. “Often these larger fireworks are not given full respect. They are ignited in areas that are too small or too close to bystanders. A device can fall over or be tilted in a direction that sends projectiles into crowds of people and structures.”

Covington Assistant Fire Marshall Tony Smith said he didn’t want to give a personal opinion, but said he could see the extra funding being of help to both the trauma network and firefighter training council.

“The dangers pertaining to fireworks and their storage and use will always exist whether this bill passes or not. If the bill were to pass, the only changes I can see now are in the public education and building construction,” Smith said in an email.
“We would increase the amount of public education in the use and storage of fireworks. … Due to the larger size and larger quantity of fireworks, construction practices would have to be evaluated to assure that employees and citizens would be safe in structures storing or selling fireworks.”

Regulations on current sales
The city allows companies to apply for temporary 30-day permits to sell fireworks. Senior Planner Scott Gaither said the tents often set up in shopping center parking lots get these types of permits.

The fire marshal and building inspector inspect all of these businesses in the same manner as any new business, Gaither said.

“This compliance inspection is strictly for the enforcement of the life safety codes,” Gaither said.

The county allows temporary permits but only for charitable or non-profit events for four days or less, according to Pamela Maxwell, the county’s business license coordinator.

 

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