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Fireworks bill awaits governor – again

Fireworks are a staple of American history and are often considered as important to American culture as apple pie and baseball, according to an Arizona House member who has been trying for years to overturn the state’s ban on fireworks.

After many failed attempts, a bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs, a Gilbert Republican, legalizing the sale of small consumer fireworks is now awaiting approval from the governor.

“This is Americana, and we ought to have that opportunity here in Arizona,” Biggs said.
The bill, H2246, which passed in the House of Representatives on April 26 with a 44-13 vote, would legalize the sale and use of small firework devices such as cone fountains, ground spinners, sparklers and smoke devices.

While these fireworks could legally be sold and used statewide, counties and municipalities would still maintain jurisdiction over sales and possible regulation of use if there was a reasonable risk of wildfire.

Biggs sponsored a similar bill last year that passed in the Senate and the House, but was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer because she said fire risks were not sufficiently addressed.

Biggs said the bill addresses all of the concerns Brewer expressed with the previous bill.
“I can say that I’m getting signs of optimism,” he said.

On the other hand, Rep. David Schapira, a Democrat from Tempe, said legalizing fireworks should not be brought up at this point in the legislative session because it is irrelevant to the grand scheme of improving the state as a whole.

“(This is) yet another bill that we’ve passed that has nothing to do with the state’s problems,” he said. “We might as well bring back the making-milk-the-state’s-drink bill because that one’s just as important.”

Schapira also said he is against the bill because it is a strong concern among firefighters that they wouldn’t have enough resources to handle an increased presence of fireworks.

Assistant Phoenix Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz said the fire department responds to several hundred calls for firework-related incidents on the Fourth of July alone. If fireworks sales were legalized in the state that number would “skyrocket,” he said. “No pun intended.”

Ruiz said that the fire department does not have the manpower to address potential problems that could arise from passing the bill. The number of Phoenix Fire Department general inspectors, who have the responsibility of overseeing professional firework displays, has shrunk to 17 from 25 within the past year because of budget cuts, he said.

“That’s just eight less inspectors that can go out there and ensure that even the professional fireworks are being done right,” Ruiz said. “Now we’re putting fireworks in the hands of non-professionals and, in many cases, kids, so it really exacerbates the problem.”

Ruiz said an increase in wildfires should be expected if the law is established, especially in areas in northern Arizona, which were the concerns of the two Republicans that voted against the bill, Rep. Andy Tobin, of Paulden, and Rep. Nancy McLain, of Bullhead City.

“It just doesn’t make sense in Arizona, being such a dry state,” Ruiz said.

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