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Three fireworks bills clear committee

The state House Consumer Protection Committee on Tuesday unanimously passed three of four fireworks-related bills.

The most restrictive of those measures, House Bill 213 — which would impose a statewide limit on consumer fireworks except by permit for cultural events — was deferred by the committee chairman, Aaron Ling Johanson, an Oahu Democrat, likely killing it for this legislative session.

“I don’t know that a one-size-fits-all is a good idea, considering the differences between the counties,” Johanson said.

The bill was supported by the Hawaii State Fire Council, whose chairman, Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves, said in written testimony, “The widespread use of fireworks endangers the public, not only when it is being used, but also when it is transported throughout the state.”

Neves also said the use of legal fireworks by the public “encourages the sale and use of illegal fireworks throughout the community.”

“Death and serious injuries have occurred along with property damage,” he added. “Neighborhoods are impacted by noise and pollution, veterans are reminded of combat conditions, and animals are traumatized for weeks and sometimes months.”

In addition, support was presented by the state Department of Public Safety, with Director Max Otani submitting written testimony that the bill would “reduce the demand for consumer fireworks, and consequently, will lessen the opportunities for illegal fireworks to be imported into the state.”

Testimony was presented by Stephanie Kendrick, public policy advocate for the Hawaiian Humane Society on Oahu.

“Fireworks and the noise that they create in our neighborhoods present an incredible hazard for our companion animals,” Kendrick told the committee.

In written testimony, she said neither people nor animals “should have to take tranquilizers just to survive the impacts of illegal behavior by their neighbors.”

The bill was opposed by American Promotional Events, a Tacoma, Wash., company also doing business as TNT Fireworks, which noted a ban on “nearly all consumer fireworks on Oahu” was passed by the Honolulu City Council in 2010.

“Since that time, consumers have obtained fireworks through the black market,” Brian Trim, the company’s vice president, said in written testimony.

Trim said New Jersey, Arizona and Delaware are among states that have reversed bans on consumer fireworks and allow the sale of “consumer fireworks such as fountains and ground spinners,” similar to the laws allowing firecrackers and certain other ground-bound fireworks on the Big Island.

Trim also noted fireworks are allowed in 49 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

“Hawaii consumers are enamored with fireworks and have a long history of fireworks being an integral part of New Year’s and July 4 family celebrations,” Trim said.

HB 508, passed by the committee with amendments, would increase minimum fines for illegal use of fireworks from $500 to $1,000 and maximum fines from $2,000 to $4,000.

It also received the support of the Hawaii State Fire Council, the Department of Public Safety and Hawaiian Humane Society.

The measure has been referred to the Consumer Protection and Finance committees, although neither has yet scheduled a hearing.

HB 1246, passed by the committee with amendments, specifies that certain violations of the fireworks control law also would trigger citations under air-pollution and noise-pollution laws.

The legislation is supported by the Hawaii State Fire Council and Hawaiian Humane Society.

The state Department of Health, which is tasked with enforcing noise- and air-pollution laws, said in written testimony that “enforcement … and penalty calculation for such a fireworks rule would by unfeasible” for the department.

Johanson called the bill “very much a work in progress, with many issues that need to be ironed out,” but added it’s “an important way to change the discussion about additional deterrent mechanisms.”

The only other referral on the measure was to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Mark Nakashima, a Democrat from Hamakua, but a hearing hasn’t yet been scheduled.

HB 1245 — which would establish a process for issuing citations for fireworks violations similar to traffic ticketing, wherein people cited could pay fines online rather than appearing in court — was passed with an amendment that would appropriate $40,000 to the state Judiciary to develop the citation system.

The measure, which is also supported by the Hawaii State Fire Council, has referrals to the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs and Finance committees, neither of which have scheduled hearings.

No testimony was submitted by Big Island fire or police officials for any of the bills.

Johanson, who introduced all but HB 508, said the impetus behind the legislative package is “quality of life” for the state’s citizens.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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