Maine can't turn back clock on fireworks sales

We were opposed to allowing fireworks when the idea was refloated in 2011. We called the measure "seriously misguided."

But now that it has been approved and stores are up and running, it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle rocket.

Yet Rep. Mike Lajoie, D-Lewiston, is proposing to do just that. The retired Lewiston fire chief has submitted a bill to repeal the fireworks law.

The negative consequences were clear before the current law was passed in 2011. The Maine Fire Chiefs' Association and the Maine Medical Association opposed the bill, while doctors and fire chiefs enumerated the risks.

The injury and accident data is readily available, but none of it could keep a Republican Legislature and governor from approving what they saw as a jobs bill.

Yes, fireworks were sold as an economic development program.

So they passed a law allowing fireworks in Maine, but they allowed communities to prohibit the sale or use of devices causing "combustion, explosion, deflagration or detonation," as the bill put it.

And 57 Maine communities have chosen to limit fireworks to certain areas or certain days, or to forbid them entirely.

But they soon discovered many residents are either unaware of the regulations or simply unwilling to obey them. Naturally, as fireworks became more readily available, people started buying and using more fireworks with little regard for local regulations.

Since then, police have been dealing with hundreds of nuisance calls. Sometimes people mistake fireworks for gunfire. Some call because the fireworks frighten their pets and farm animals. Others are simply angry about fireworks disturbing their sleep.

In 2011, the year before the fireworks stores were prevalent, the Lewiston Police Department received 30 fireworks complaints for the year. For the first seven months of 2012, the department received 213 complaints and issued 80 summonses.

So, just allowing communities to regulate fireworks has been largely ineffective.

Republican legislators and Gov. Paul LePage were fully behind the new fireworks law. They argued the fireworks bill would attract investment in fireworks stores and create retail jobs. 

And, indeed, it has.

"I got $4 million invested right now," Steve Marston, owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics and Pyro City Maine, was quoted by the Kennebec Journal as telling the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

"You guys pull the plug on this, you're pulling the plug on a lot of people that have invested in the state of Maine and invested in its people."

He's right. We opened the door to fireworks merchants, and we can't just slam it shut.

That would be unfair, plus it would demonstrate the kind of governmental uncertainty that businesspeople complain about.

A halfway measure the Legislature should consider would be to stop issuing permits for new stores. We could then wait a few more years and see if the novelty of using fireworks starts to wear off.

If the problem persists or grows, the only fair thing the state could do would be to buy out the existing stores over a period of years.

We have created a messy problem that will, unfortunately, be messy to fix.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Comments

Bob Woodbury's picture

Sounds to me...

...like fireworks is costing more money than it's making. Get rid of it.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Wow, what a mess

It will be very hard to be fair in this. Everybody will probably end up losing. If we pass a law forbidding new stores but allow people to use fireworks, it seems to me they will be going to New Hampshire again and we will still have the same disruptions. I expect more and more communities will try to outlaw their use as complains mount up. Maybe limiting the time periods in which they are allowed to be used would be more helpful. For example allowing them for 1 week in July and 2 weeks in December and by special permit for events like graduations or weddings would at least give folks a warning that they will be going off. Also they should be banned after 10pm. except on those special weeks and they should all be banned when there is a high fire danger.

AL PELLETIER's picture

It didn't take Nostradamus.

Any one with an once of common sense could have seen this can of worms coming.
In 2011 I predicted this to the letter in many letters.

David Marsters's picture

Fireworks bill

This bill was pushed through to fast. Let it be as is. I don't think the tax payers would agree to buying out the existing stores. The state has more problems than fire works.

MARK GRAVE's picture

Agree, but this gives nannies

Agree, but this gives nannies reason to, well, nanny.

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