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Fireworks could be legal in Ohio in 2022

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthorne... Scott Bartlett, of Braceville, picks out a case of fireworks for the Fourth of July from Phantom Fireworks on Meridian Road in Youngstown. The Ohio Legislature has approved a bill that would legalize consumer-grade fireworks on specific days beginning next year.

By next July 4, and probably sooner, Ohioans will be able to use consumer-grade fireworks without breaking the law.

It’s currently illegal to use those fireworks in Ohio — Massachusetts is the only other state that prohibits them — but people are rarely prosecuted for it.

The state Legislature approved a bill, with Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, as a main sponsor, that makes the discharge of consumer-grade fireworks legal on certain days: New Year’s Eve and Day; Chinese New Year; Cinco de Mayo; Memorial Day weekend; Juneteenth; July 3, 4 and 5 and the previous and following weekends; Labor Day weekend; and Diwali, a five-day Indian festival.

The law also permits the use of fireworks on “legal holidays” as defined by Ohio Revised Code. In addition to some of the days above, ORC lists the following as holidays: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and “any day appointed and recommended by the governor of this state or the president of the United States as a holiday.”

Local governments could restrict dates and times or even impose a full ban on fireworks under the law. It wouldn’t go into effect until 260 days after the governor signs it into law.

TOP RETAILER

“It’s a great bill,” said Bruce Zoldan, president and CEO of Phantom Fireworks of Youngstown, the country’s top consumer fireworks retailer. “The bottom line is people are buying fireworks and using them in Ohio. They will this year. We’ve had numerous bills passed by either the House or the Senate, but they haven’t been able to agree on a bill. I’m pleased they were able to agree on this one.”

However, Zoldan isn’t sure DeWine, whom he calls a longtime friend, will sign it.

“The governor has some hesitation,” Zoldan said. “Hopefully, he signs it and trusts the facts. It’s a wise decision to legalize it. But I believe there are enough votes in the House and the Senate to override a veto if he gives one.”

Zoldan said the bill makes using fireworks safer because it imposes a 4 percent fee on the retail sale beginning 100 days after the bill’s effective date. That money would be used to fund firefighter training programs as well as pay for the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s regulation and enforcement of the fireworks industry. This would crack down on bootleg fireworks dealers, he said.

The bill also establishes the Ohio Fire Code Rule Recommendation Committee made up of the state fire marshal, local fire chiefs, a local police chief, members of the Ohio State Pyrotechnics Association, a member of the Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness, an Ohio Optometric Association member, a member of the Ohio Pyrotechnic Arts Guild, a representative of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants. The committee would advise the state fire marshal on rules about fireworks usage, sale, manufacturing licensing and wholesale licensing.

“With proper parameters and safety precautions, Ohioans will soon be able to celebrate our holidays safely,” Rulli said.

As for his company, Zoldan said legalizing fireworks in Ohio will “pretty much double our business in the state. There’s a large percentage of people who will wait to buy until they’re legalized in Ohio.”

Phantom operates more than 85 stores, and about 1,600 seasonal stands and tents in 15 states, Zoldan said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Zoldan said Phantom did about twice the sales it did in 2019. It will do even better this year, he said, though Phantom got only 70 percent of the fireworks it ordered because of a shipping crisis in China, where fireworks are made.

The bill also allows retail fireworks businesses to increase the maximum floor space from 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet as long as proper sprinkler systems are installed.

PROS AND CONS

Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene said: “I’m certainly not against fireworks as long as people are responsible. That’s the key: people need to be responsible with fireworks.”

But the bill had opposition.

Sherill K. Williams, president and CEO of the Ohio Affiliate of Prevent Blindness — an organization representing health-care providers, hospitals, fire safety officials and animal advocates — said the group feels “strongly that this bill will result in more fireworks injuries to Ohioans.”

Williams added: “Despite industry warning and public service announcements, many consumers believe that if something is legalized, it is inherently safe. This the core of our concern with (the bill). Ohio’s prohibition on fireworks discharge sends a clear message to our citizens: fireworks are dangerous.”

About half of all fireworks injuries are to bystanders and not the people actually lighting the fireworks, Williams said.

In Ohio, a person can currently purchase fireworks, but it’s illegal to use them in the state. They must be taken out of the state within 48 hours of purchase. The only permissible items are novelties that produce smoke, pop and / or sparkle. While it’s a first-degree misdemeanor to use fireworks in the state, the law is rarely enforced.

Michael D. Farley, vice president of government affairs and general counsel for the Ohio Insurance Institute, a property and casualty insurance association, also opposed the bill.

“The proliferation of consumer-grade fireworks will likely lead to more injuries to Ohio children,” he said. The bill “is a wide-open provision to endorse the use of consumer-grade fireworks in Ohio.”

State Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, a longtime supporter of legalizing fireworks, said the bill “gives people permission to do what they’ve done for decades, but the legal way. There’s local control so communities can decrease the dates or the hours or ban fireworks altogether. The state fire marshal will have rules and with 4 percent of the gross receipts going to the state fire marshal, it funds safety.”

The provision that the law won’t take effect for 260 days will allow the fire marshal to establish rules and have wholesalers understand them, O’Brien said.

It also will help the local economy as Phantom as well as Wholesale Fireworks in Niles employ numerous people, he said.

“The bill has been ongoing for more than a decade,” O’Brien said.

State Rep. Al Cutrona, R-Canfield, said: “Legislators put a lot of thought into this. There’s a lot of education in the bill. People light fireworks on July 4. At least now it will be within the law. It’s a good bill, and it’s long overdue.”

dskolnick@vindy.com

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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