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House approves pair of bills on fireworks

Threat of forest fires has led Sen. Steve Pierce to introduce a bill that would allow municipalities to ban the sale of legal fireworks. A law passed in Dec. 2010 legalized certain fireworks and allowed cities to ban their use – but not sale. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Rebekah Zemansky)

A bill to set a low, state-wide penalty for violating local fireworks regulations sparked a debate in the House on Monday when Democrats argued the bill would take away local control and lead to possible catastrophe.

Democrats stood nearly united against HB2481, which would set violations of city and county fireworks regulations as a petty crime, instead of allowing local governments to decide the penalty.  A few Republicans joined their ranks in opposing the bill. The final vote tally was 36 to 24 in favor of the measure.

Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo of Yuma said that since different areas of the state have different fire risks, cities and counties should be able to set the offense that fits the area best. She said that if the state sets one low penalty for all violations across the state, it takes away local control from cities and counties.

“As of right now, incorporated cities and towns have the authority to regulate the use of permissible consumer fireworks as they see fit. These regulations vary city-by-city. HB2481 would lower the penalty for violating consumer fireworks regulations statewide to a petty offense, which is the equivalent of a slap on the wrist,” she said.

“Isn’t this an attack on local control?” she asked. “What kind of catastrophe needs to happen for us to open our eyes?”

Another fireworks bill also passed though the House, with less opposition. That measure, HB2461, would direct the state marshal to adopt rules related to fireworks and pyrotechnics from the 2013 edition of the National Fire Safety Association. Arizona currently uses the 2006 version of the regulations.

Seven Democrats voted against the measure, including Rep. Lela Alston, who said she didn’t have any problem updating the codes, but the bill looked “suspiciously like a striker bill” that could be used to carry a different, less innocuous measure later in the session.

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