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Legal fireworks about to happen

Anyone who lives in Ohio knows the state’s current fireworks law rarely is enforced.

Neighborhoods can sound like war zones around July 4 — as well as the week before and, if there are leftover fireworks, the week after.

The existing Ohio law permits the purchase of consumer-grade fireworks, but not their detonation within the state’s borders. Yeah, right.

The only permissible items in Ohio are novelties that produce smoke, pop and / or sparkle. Otherwise, it’s a first-degree misdemeanor to explode fireworks in the state.

Ohio and Massachusetts are the only states in the nation that have such a law on the books.

For years, there have been efforts to get rid of the law because fireworks is huge business in Ohio and so many break the rules without any punishment unless someone gets seriously hurt.

One legislative body, usually the Ohio House, passed a bill to legalize fireworks and the other chamber, usually the Senate, didn’t follow up and things stayed the way they are.

But the House and Senate came to an agreement on a bill that restricted the days when fireworks legally could be used, gave local governments control allowing them to reduce those days even further or ban fireworks if they desired, limited the expansion of fireworks warehouses and impose a 4 percent fee on the retail sale with that money to be used on firefighter training programs and the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s regulation and enforcement of the fireworks industry.

For people with pets, especially dogs, the noise from fireworks can be maddening and frustrating. But let’s face it, fireworks aren’t going anywhere, so the bill seemed like a reasonable compromise.

The Senate approved it 26-7 on June 2. The House voted in favor 66-27 on June 24.

But Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, had three key concerns: there were too many days in which using fireworks would be legal; he wanted more safety measures added; and he objected to fireworks locations being allowed to double in size from a maximum of 5,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.

During a July 9 event in New Middletown after I asked him a question about the fireworks bill, DeWine acknowledged he had vetoed the bill.

It would have been easy for DeWine’s fellow Republicans to override the governor’s veto. There were enough votes, but Ohio legislators are often hesitant to override the veto of the governor of the same political party. It’s happened only one time in the nearly three years DeWine has been governor.

The veto wasn’t warmly met by legislators and Bruce Zoldan, president and CEO of the Youngstown-based Phantom Fireworks, the nation’s largest consumer fireworks retailer and a longtime DeWine supporter and donor.

Zoldan had several choice words for DeWine at the time, calling him a “hypocrite,” a “coward” and that he “made a major mistake.”

Rather than a veto, DeWine’s staff talked with legislators about compromises the governor was willing to accept in exchange for signing a law.

They were met and with little advanced notice, a new bill was introduced Oct. 27 with those changes. The Senate voted 26-5 in favor of it and a short time later, the House approved it 72-23.

The changes are relatively minor.

There are fewer days in which people will be able to use fireworks.

Instead of an expansion to 10,000 square feet, fireworks locations can grow to 7,500 square feet.

Some additional safety measures were added, most notably that any fireworks location larger than 5,000 square feet needs enhanced sprinkler systems.

Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman, said: “The changes alleviate the concerns of his previous veto and he’ll sign” this bill.

The bill’s effective date is July 1, 2022.

Zoldan said he was thrilled with the compromise and that he previously “said things I regret. But friends can make up and get along.”

This is a huge benefit for Zoldan’s business, which has experienced its two best years this year and in 2020. The legalization likely means his business will double.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

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