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Honolulu council, retailers wish to ignite fireworks bill

HONOLULU — The state Department of Law Enforcement’s efforts to seize illegal aerial fireworks and other assorted, unlawful explosives has showed recent successes at Hawai‘i’s harbors and piers.

Since its establishment in June 2023, DLE’s Illegal Fireworks Task Force, composed of county police officers, state narcotics agents, deputy sheriffs and federal agencies including Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has worked to impound thousands of pounds of contraband fireworks.

But in spite of government seizures to quash illegal fireworks on O‘ahu, the Honolulu City Council is pushing a new measure to allow some currently banned “consumer fireworks” — namely, ground-level fountains and sparklers — to be legally sold to people with permits, during designated periods like New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July.

Introduced by council member Calvin Say, Bill 22, expected for final council review for approval in July, seeks to amend the fire code to permit consumer fireworks that also commonly include firecrackers.

If passed, the measure will establish requirements relating to retailers and sites licensed to import, store and sell display fireworks or firecrackers, the bill states.

The bill, however, would keep aerial fireworks illegal.

The proliferation of illegal fireworks has led to more aggressive coordination by the task force to crack down.

On Feb. 15 the task force seized about 24 tons of display fireworks — known as 1.3G fireworks, which are not meant for public use — from a shipping container during a routine inspection at Honolulu Harbor.

And on Dec. 27 the task force recovered 17 tons of illegal fireworks from a shipping container with falsely declared contents. Authorities believe that load of undeclared, explosive merchandise was destined for the state’s black market for banned fireworks.

The possession and use of fountains, sparklers, aerial fireworks and other consumer fireworks are not legally permitted on O‘ahu. A firecracker permit and valid identification are also required to purchase and use firecrackers. A person must be at least 18 years old to obtain a firecracker permit.

But since its introduction in April, Bill 22 has gained support from the business community.

TNT Fireworks, which claims to be the largest distributor of fireworks in the United States and an importer and seller of legal consumer fireworks in Hawai‘i for over 50 years, is among the measure’s proponents.

“We believe enacting Bill 22 offers an alternative to these illegal products and will be consistent with what is already being offered for sale and use in the other counties,” Tad Trout, a TNT Fireworks partner, told the council at its June 5 meeting.

He added “while this bill may help stem the illegal aerial fireworks problem, other measures must be continued, such as efforts by the state Illegal Fireworks Task Force through harbor seizures.”

“Additionally, TNT recommends that a safety and education program be implemented to better inform consumers of the difference between legal consumer fireworks and illegal aerial fireworks and explosives,” he said.

Tina Yamaki, Retail Merchants of Hawaii president, also supports the bill.

“Fireworks hold a significant cultural importance in Hawai‘i’s Asian culture, (to ward) off evil spirits and ushering in good luck,” she said. “Allowing retailers to sell legal consumer fireworks and enabling the community to celebrate with these fireworks would be greatly appreciated.”

She noted, “Aerial fireworks have been banned for several years in the state of Hawai‘i along with other, different types of fireworks, yet we continue to see them lighting up our skies and on our streets, fronting people’s homes, beaches, to name a few.”

Yamaki said even years after the fireworks ban, “people have found ways to purchase these illegal fireworks and aerials, and they do the same for all fireworks.”

“Many legitimate retailers depend on the sale of legal fireworks, knowing that the buyers must obtain permits before purchase,” she added. “A complete ban on the fireworks imposes an additional financial burden on a lot of these law-abiding retailers, many of whom are still struggling to stay afloat.”

But the city’s Fire Department opposes Bill 22.

“The last time consumer fireworks were legal was 2010,” HFD Battalion Chief Jean-Claude Bisch told the council. “On New Year’s Eve of 2010, we had seven structure fires. On New Year’s Eve of 2011, we had zero structure fires.”

He added that the use of consumer fireworks will increase the threat of wildland fires, “which the community is hyper-sensitive to after Lahaina.”

“Every neighborhood board meeting we’ve gone to, the topic of wildfires comes up every time,” he said. “With the increased rains that we had recently, the fuel load in the wildland-urban interface has increased, which will create a higher threat when it’s dry.”

Bisch noted that “the National Weather Service has stated this summer is anticipated to be hotter and drier than normal.”

And he said Hawaiian Electric Co.’s planned July 1 launch of its Public Safety Power Shutoff program — which, for safety reasons, intends to deactivate power to parts of the state threatened during high-risk conditions — will affect a city-run utility.

“It may affect the Board of Water Supply’s ability to provide water to high-risk areas during adverse weather,” he said. “Because of that, we’re in opposition to this bill.”

Ultimately, the council voted to pass Bill 22 on its second reading.
Source: The Garden Island

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