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Local efforts to limit Fourth of July festivities fizzle

July 1, 2015
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Not everyone is having a blast over the explosion of fireworks use in Indiana in recent years. But local attempts so far to curb the concussions have bombed.

Independence Day fireworks blowouts enjoy a statewide protected status well before and after the actual holiday. For 11 days, with July 4 falling precisely in the middle, it is legal to set off consumer fireworks for at least six evening and nighttime hours on each of those days. On July 4, Hoosiers can shoot them from 10 a.m. until midnight.

The law says cities, towns and counties can’t do anything about that. However, that doesn’t mean they haven’t tried, especially when constituents with short fuses go off on their local representatives.

fireworks-chart.gif“This is ridiculous. This is stupid,” Evansville City Council President H. Dan Adams said of the prolonged pyrotechnics and his city’s inability to limit them. Adams is quick to say he does not disapprove of fireworks and even enjoys setting them off himself. But come late June, he and his fellow council members start getting an earful from residents upset by nonstop bangs, pops and occasional misguided rockets landing on rooftops.

Adams estimated that council members each get about a dozen complaints a day before and after the July 4 holiday.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “Frankly, we’re all sick and tired of being inundated by calls and not being able to do anything about it. I don’t mind taking crap for something I’ve done. But this year, I’m not taking any calls, and I will just refer them to the state legislators.”

fireworks-factbox.gifIndiana Code 22-11-14-10.5 sets out when it’s legal to use fireworks. It also prevents localities from limiting use of fireworks between 5 p.m. and two hours after sunset for the five days before and five days after July 4. On the big day itself, revelers can light those firecrackers from 10 a.m. until midnight.

Likewise, the statute makes New Year’s Eve fireworks legal statewide from 10 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1.

Cities and counties may adopt fireworks regulations that apply at other times, but they aren’t allowed to set stricter controls than spelled out by the statute for the dates around Independence Day and New Year’s Eve.

Exasperated in Evansville last year, the council unanimously adopted a resolution pleading with the state to allow cities, towns and counties to regulate the use of fireworks.

Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, heard those complaints and carried Senate Bill 124 to the Statehouse this past session. The bill would have allowed localities to regulate fireworks, but not any more than the law currently states on the days of July 3, 4 and 5. Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, filed a similar bill in the House.

Both bills were duds – neither received a committee hearing.

“Personally, I really do believe in local home rule,” Becker said, “and the Legislature, while they talk a good talk about it, they’re less interested in forking over the ability in many areas.”

Noise isn’t the only issue, she said. “I think safety is still an important issue, and I think it ought to be left up to local communities to make those decisions” about when fireworks may be set off.

buck-jim-mug Buck

Becker’s bill fizzled in the Senate Commerce and Technology Committee chaired by Sen. Jim Buck, R-Kokomo. He said he didn’t want the bill to get a hearing because it would have caused confusion for retailers. There also was concern the bill could allow localities to legislate the kinds of fireworks that could be sold.

Buck said lawmakers have thoroughly debated fireworks regulations. “This was one of those bills that was just going to be rehashing old ground,” he said. “There are many people out there that don’t want to have fireworks at all.”

Lawmakers settled on the dates in the fireworks statute as a nod to families whose gatherings and vacations may fall near, but not on, July 4, Buck said.

Evansville isn’t the only Indiana locality to try without success to restrict when it’s legal to shoot fireworks. In 2012, Crown Point drafted an ordinance to curb fireworks use, but the city scrapped the proposal when attorneys determined state law prevented local regulations that exceed those in the statute.

fireworks-inside Phantom Fireworks employee Victoria Snyder stocks shelves at a west Indianapolis store. (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

Fireworks have become big business in Indiana since most classifications of consumer pyrotechnics were legalized in 2006. Retailers report sales of about $50 million in bottle rockets, Roman candles, sparklers and other fireworks each year. Along with sales tax, the state collects an additional 5 percent tax that’s used to support public safety training. The tax typically produces about $2.5 million in annual revenue.

The industry has considerable clout in the Statehouse, Becker said. “I think it’s always been a force. That’s why we have a more relaxed statute than we need to have.”

Adams hopes lawmakers will take a fresh look at local control over fireworks in the future. “People are angry. They’re really angry about this situation,” he said.

Becker may introduce legislation again.

“You don’t want to be a fuddy-duddy,” she said, “but you want (fireworks users) to be responsible.”•

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