After years of fielding complaints from residents across the commonwealth about a 2017 expansion of the state’s fireworks law that opened the door for the purchase and use of consumer-grade fireworks, state lawmakers approved a measure Friday that would tighten the law to give municipalities more power to regulate when fireworks can and can’t be used.
The 2017 law allowed anyone over the age of 18 to buy and use consumer-grade, or Class C fireworks, a term that includes firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets. But the expansion of the law has since concerned residents, along with local and state lawmakers, who contend the law was too lax and allowed for unfettered – and unlawful – use of fireworks.The new measure, House Bill 2157, would set new restrictions on the use of such fireworks, requiring both display fireworks and consumer fireworks to be set off at certain minimum distances from buildings and vehicles.
The legislation would also give more power to municipalities to regulate the use of consumer fireworks, allowing local governments to set time restrictions and prohibitions on the use and sale of the fireworks. Municipalities would be able to ban the use of consumer fireworks between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., though the limitations would not apply to certain holidays, such as the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day and New Year’s Eve, when people would be permitted to use consumer-grade fireworks until 1 a.m.
Local governments would also be able to require permits for the use of Class C fireworks and would be able to ban their use entirely if potential fireworks users are unable to meet a 150-foot setback requirement.
The legislation drew a mixed response from legislators, with some proffering sparkling praise for the reforms and others blasting state and local governments’ efforts to further regulate firework use.
“When we talk about fireworks, for those of us in certain very dense communities, they are pernicious – vexatious,” said state Rep. Joe Hohenstein, a Democrat from Philadelphia. “They take up so much mental health and energy from our people that we need to get a handle on the fireworks and how they’re being used and utilized. I think this is a great step forward.”
Others, however, had a short fuse regarding the approval of such a bill just days before Independence Day. “I don’t believe that we should be enacting a law that gives municipalities the ability to require a permit to set off fireworks,” said state Rep. Andrew Lewis, a Republican from Dauphin County. “On the eve of July 4 weekend, on the eve of Independence Day, we’re going to now create new classes of criminals because people didn’t follow basic fireworks rules that may have been by mistake.”
“I think that requiring permits to set off fireworks – it’s just a bridge too far,” Lewis said.
As for Gov. Tom Wolf’s stance on the bill, there’s little chance of pyrotechnics before he takes an in-depth look at the bill. “He’ll review the bill when it gets to his desk,” a spokesperson for Wolf said.