Two Lewiston legislators co-sponsor fireworks ban

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AUGUSTA — State lawmakers may revisit a new law that made several more classes of fireworks legal in 2012. One bill would repeal the law and make most fireworks again illegal to possess.

The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee took a look at several bills Monday, including LD 111, sponsored by Rep. Mike Lajoie, D-Lewiston.

Lajoie’s proposals will repeal the law that allows the sale, purchase and use of “consumer fireworks” in Maine. Lajoie is a former fire chief for the city of Lewiston.

Rep. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is a co-author on the bill. Libby also offered testimony to the committee Monday regarding a neighbor who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder who is bothered by the sound of fireworks at unexpected hours. Libby also spoke about his soon to be 4-year-old son, Jude, who endures non-epileptic seizures that can be triggered by loud noises.

“His seizures are sometimes random, but more often caused by stimuli, particularly loud sudden noises,” Libby said.  “As you can imagine, when fireworks are discharged in my neighborhood, Jude has a seizure. Seeing your child having a seizure and knowing there is nothing that can be done is heartbreaking.”

Lajoie said he believes Maine went backward on safety when it legalized consumer fireworks.

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He cited information provided by the State Fire Marshal’s Office showing that in 2012, fireworks were blamed for 20 structure fires, 38 wild fires and 20 injuries.

Lajoie said the previous law may not have been perfect but it had advantages over the current law.

“It did reduce the number of nuisance calls, the number of injuries and the number of fires that were previously experienced,” Lajoie said.  

Another bill would prohibit the use of fireworks, including commercial displays, within one mile of a farm with livestock.

Lawmakers heard from Wendy Gray, the owner of riding stables in Bowdoinham, who said her horses are often spooked by the unexpected use of consumer fireworks near her facility, putting her animals and customers at risk.

Representatives from the fireworks industry said they focus on safety education when it comes to consumer fireworks. They also noted that the fledgling industry in Maine was a source of much-needed employment.

Danial Peart, the director of showroom operations for Phantom Fireworks, said it’s estimated that as many as 500 people are employed during the busy summer season at shops run by his company and his competitors.

Phantom, based in Ohio, sells fireworks in 13 other states.

Also testifying Monday was Steven Marson, the president of Pyro City Maine and Central Maine Pyrotechnics. Marson spoke several times to the committee. His one business includes stores that sell consumer fireworks in Manchester, Edgecomb, Winslow and Presque Isle.

Marson said his company employs 23 full-time, year-round employees. It pays a starting wage of $9.50 per hour, offers two weeks vacation and pays 50 percent of the premium for a health insurance plan. He said his payroll in 2012 was $600,000. He also noted that he started his businesses with help from a loan backed by the Finance Authority of Maine.

“We paid a lot of sales tax to the state of Maine, we paid a lot of permit fees,” Marson said. “We employ a lot of really good people.” 

He said the company placed a strong emphasis on public safety and being a good neighbor in the use of fireworks.  “We take a great effort at educating the public, and I don’t care if you come into my store 10 times a day, you are going to get the same message.”

Republican lawmakers on the committee noted the law that legalized consumer fireworks included language that allowed local municipalities to create their own ordinances to regulate or otherwise ban outright the use of the fireworks locally.

In prepared statement issued Monday, the House Minority Leader, Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said the law passed in 2011 did not “impose consumer fireworks on Maine;  it simply lifted the statewide ban, allowing towns and cities to decide for themselves how to regulate their usage.”

“It’s unfortunate that we’re talking about rolling back a commonsense measure to bring local control and hundreds of jobs to Maine communities,” Fredette said.

Several bills, including Lajoie’s, will be back before the committee for work sessions on Monday, March 18. 

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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