March 11, 2013

Bills to ban, restrict Maine fireworks considered

The 2012 legalization of consumer fireworks is blamed for excess noise and scaring livestock.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Less than two years after legalizing the purchase and use of consumer fireworks, the Legislature is considering a bill to repeal the law and four other measures that would add restrictions.

click image to enlarge

In this June 2012 file photo, store manager Scott Mitchell explains how the newer fireworks are safer than the older models at Atlas Fireworks Company on Route One in Scarborough. Bills repealing and restricting Maine's fireworks laws are currently in front of the Legislature.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

The repeal bill, proposed by Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, a retired city fire chief, was heard Monday by the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The earlier fireworks ban -- on the books from the 1940s until 2011 -- "did not completely stop the use and sale of fireworks; however, it did reduce them as well as reduce nuisance complaints and injuries," Lajoie said.

Fireworks retailers oppose the ban and the other restrictive measures.

"I got $4 million invested right now. I got $1.3 million of fireworks arriving here in four weeks," testified Steve Marston, owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics and Pyro City Maine, which operates five consumer fireworks stores. "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."

Other measures heard Monday would require municipal open-burning permits to shoot off fireworks and ban their use within one mile of fields containing livestock.

Another bill would roll back to 9 p.m. the latest hour fireworks may be set off.

The present curfew starts at 10 p.m. Another measure seeks to identify "reasonable restrictions" that could be made under law.

But Kate Dufour, a lobbyist for the Maine Municipal Association, an advocacy group for cities and towns, said her group opposes any bill to repeal the existing fireworks law or restrict local control of their use, such as the burn-permit bill.

"It's a mandate on communities and it's something we can do ourselves," she said.

Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, said his "reasonable restrictions" bill was partly motivated by constituent complaints that fireworks blasts can make pets skittish.

Tina Bisson of Topsham, who keeps her horse in Bowdoinham, said fireworks spook the animal worse than gunfire or other loud noises.

"I'm very afraid to ride the horse and that I will fall off because the fireworks are going off sometimes four times in the day," she said. "It's being used as a weapon to terrorize the horses by a neighbor."

Four of the five bills heard Monday are sponsored by legislative Democrats. Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, is the chief sponsor of the bill that would lengthen the time period when fireworks use would be prohibited.

In a prepared statement, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said it was "unfortunate that we're talking about rolling back a commonsense measure to bring jobs and local control to Maine communities."

The fireworks law, ushered in by the previous, Republican-led legislature, took effect in January 2012 and allowed fireworks use between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. by those 21 years of age or older on private property.

However, municipalities can restrict or ban fireworks, and 57 municipalities have enacted restrictions of some kind, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas told the committee Monday.

The committee must hold work sessions on the five bills before referring them back to the full Legislature.

State House Bureau writer Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

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