June 23, 2010

Common Sense Exploded

Justin Katz

On one level, it's peculiar that so much attention should be paid to a simple change of law to make some minor fireworks legal. On another level, the issue is emblematic of Rhode Island governance.

When I first read of the change, slipped into an article about municipal receivership, I made a light-hearted note in the margins: "finally, common sense."

Also signed by Carcieri over the weekend was a bill that legalizes certain " "hand-held" and "ground-based" fireworks, including sparklers, smoke devices and glow worms.

State lawmakers said they passed the bill because it will help businesses, help the state and allow Rhode Islanders to enjoy holiday items that are available in most states.

The idea that sparklers were illegal in Rhode Island always struck me as absurd, especially given such defining events as the Bristol Fourth of July parade. Of course, this being Rhode Island, lawmakers couldn't just research the language in other states with the desired policy and copy it or, alternately, research the technical names of the specific devices that they wished to legalize and name them. Given the stated scope of the law, I chuckled when the above article went on to explain legislators' motivation as the creation of economic opportunity, but then:

Welcome to Rhode Island’s own Wild Wild West of pyrotechnics, where Casey's Legal Fireworks of Conimicut Village — an empty storefront just five days ago — is the first of what's expected to be a horde of local stores to offer "hand-held" or "ground-based" flammable entertainment with little or no direction from law-enforcement or fire officials.

Store owner James Casey plans to open two more roadside fireworks tents this weekend — one along Post Road and another in Oakland Beach. He believes what he's selling is legal, but says there's "so much confusion about what you can and can't do."

I can't find the article, just now, but fire officials have confirmed that indoor fireworks displays (such as the gerb that started the Station Nightclub fire) are still banned, but nonetheless, it appears that either a lack of consideration or deliberate and careful wording has made the law much more inclusive than was the intent. Which is not to say that I oppose legalizing small consumer fireworks. It'd be nice, though, if legislators could be at least minimally aware of what they're doing when they vote at the State House.

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They're selling some pretty big fireworks at Stop and Shop. No bottle rockets mind you, but mortars ore okay.

Posted by: michael at June 23, 2010 7:32 AM

Sometime during my life, I would like to see government criminalize standing on one foot for a temporary period of time.

It would be interesting to see if the police and prosecutors would go along with it they way they do with other malum prohibitum laws (prostitution, sexting, 10mph over speeding).

It would be even more interesting to see who among us are so indoctrinated that they cannot separate morality from legality. We get imperfect glimpses of it today via things like marijuana prohibition, but it would be interesting to see a more direct test of the phenomenon since some people mistakenly believe that marijuana is dangerous or addictive and rely on that as a justification.

Posted by: Dan at June 23, 2010 12:56 PM

Economic opportunity? Right. Try buying fireworks on July 5th. Are any of these new storefronts and roadside tents going to still be up? Ha.

This will make a small number of people a lot of money. In terms of the state, a drop in the sales tax bucket.

Meh, whatever. Job security if nothing else, I suppose.

Posted by: EMT at June 23, 2010 2:21 PM

In Hawaii fireworks are legal and subject to state and individual County (4 counties) specific laws. Certain consumer fireworks do not require a permit and some do require a permit from the county. Commercial fireworks require a permit from the Chief of the Honolulu Fire Department.

There is a long laundry list of where and how consumer fireworks can be set off as well as commercial fireworks. Every Friday night a sunset there is a commercial fireworks display over Waikiki Beach weather permitting.

In the City and County of Honolulu fireworks normally go on sale about 5 days before the legal holiday in grocery, drug, convenience, stores, super markets, big box stores, retail stores and any type of consumer retail store even gasoline stations that has a permit to sell consumer fireworks.

Under amendments to the law paperless fireworks do not require a permit so with the new design fireworks since 2005 permits have been in decline. For instance New Years 2009 permits numbered 7,469 were sold, New Years 2008 only 6,924 permits were sold, compared with 9,223 permits New Years 2007, 10,980 permits New Years 2006 and 13,981 permits New Years 2005.

The following is a quick break down of Hawaii fireworks law as applied in City and County of Honolulu:

Fireworks Permits:
a. Fireworks permit may be obtained from all Satellite City facilities for the designated holidays: New Years, Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July.
b. At any time other than the designated holidays, a fireworks permit may be obtained from the Honolulu Fire Department, 636 South St., Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.
c. Permits will not be issued by any fire station of the Honolulu Fire Department.

Fireworks Permit Cost:
a. Fireworks permit for the designated holidays and/or cultural events is $25.00 per permit.
b. Fireworks permit for any public display (commercial) is $110.

Kinds and amount of fireworks allowed per permit:
a. Only non-aerial common fireworks commonly known as firecrackers can be purchased for use on the designated holidays and/or cultural event. The purchase of not more than 5,000 individual firecrackers shall be allowed under each permit at a cost of $25.00 per permit.
b. Any aerial common fireworks and any special fireworks may be purchased for a public display at a cost of $110.00 per permit. Requirements per HRS132D for public displays shall be followed.

Access to application for a fireworks permit:
a. Anyone may obtain a fireworks permit at anytime of the year. The permit is specific to the date of issuance or effect and the date of expiration but in no case for a period to exceed one year. (One event)

How many fireworks permits may an individual have?:
a. HRS132D requires a permit to purchase non-aerial common fireworks commonly known as firecrackers. The law does not prohibit a person from obtaining more than one (1) permit to purchase firecrackers, therefore, a person may purchase more than one permit at $25 each permit.
b. Public display permits are for any aerial common fireworks and any special fireworks. Requirements per HRS132D for public displays shall be followed.

When can fireworks (firecrackers) be purchased?:
• The purchase of non-aerial common fireworks shall not be allowed more than five calendar days before the applicable designated time period on the permit and shall not allow for such purchases for more than one event. HRS132D-7 (3), HRS132D-9 (c)

Can a "retailer" sell aerial common fireworks or special fireworks to anyone with a valid permit from the County?:
• “No”. Aerial common fireworks, special fireworks, or both shall only be sold or transferred by a wholesaler to a person with a valid permit for a public display. HRS132D-8 (d)

What must be done to obtain an application for a permit for a "public display"? I want to burn firecrackers for a birthday, a wedding or similar cultural events, what must I do?:
a. The permit will allow for the use or purchase of aerial common fireworks, special fireworks, or both, for a public display.
b. The application for a public display permit shall be obtained from the county not less than twenty days before the date of the display. HRS132D-16 (a)
c. The applicant for a permit for a public display shall provide, at the applicant's option, the following: HRS132D-16, (c), (1), and (2)
1. Written certificate of insurance carrier, or a policy providing for the payment of damages of injury or death.
2. The bond of surety company duly authorized to transact business within the State, or a bond with not less than two individual sureties with assets in the State equal in value to not less than twice the amount of the bond, or a deposit in cash of not less than $10,000. The security shall continue to be in full force and effect for not less than ten days after the date of the public display.
d. The display will be handled by a pyrotechnic operator duly licensed by the State, will not be hazardous to property and will not endanger human life. HRS132D-16 (d)
e. Permits are non-transferable and shall be prominently displayed in public view at the site. HRS132D-9

Who will monitor the retail sites to insure that the vendor is selling the right amount of fireworks as required by law?
• At the present time, there is not enough manpower within the Honolulu Fire Department to monitor the retail sites. However, the permits are in triplicate form and the vendor will be asked to return the pink copy back to the fire department for record keeping. When provided for by each county, the Auditor for fireworks will be responsible for the fireworks records.

What types of fireworks do not require a permit?
• A permit is not required for the purchase of the following items classified as fireworks. HRS132D-2
Snakes, sparklers, fountains, and cylindrical or cone fountains which emit effects up to a height not greater than twelve feet above the ground, illuminating torches, bamboo canons, whistles, toy smoke devices, wheels, and ground spinners which when ignited remain within a circle with a radius of twelve feet, novelty or trick items, combination items, and other fireworks of like construction, which are designed to produce the same or similar effects.

How old must a person be to obtain a fireworks permit?
• A permit shall only be issued to a person eighteen years of age or older.

Posted by: Ken at June 24, 2010 5:33 PM

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

I once dated the widow of an ATF agent. They took the good stuff home. They celebrated the 4th with artillery simulators. When he died, he left her with machine guns, explosives, etc.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at June 24, 2010 8:21 PM

After seeing the arsenal of pyro available for purchase by 16-year-olds at a 7-11 in NK today, I can only wonder: if the state budget crisis continues next year, will the GA allow the sale of crack at CVS?

Posted by: rhody at June 25, 2010 5:41 PM
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