Florida fireworks legislation passes key Senate hurdle, but is pulled from House committee

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A measure filed in the Florida Legislature that will keep people from “lying” when buying fireworks passed a key legislative milestone Wednesday, while suffering an unexplained setback in a separate committee.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted 7-4 to support SB 314, the bill that acknowledges, but does not eliminate, a commonly abused flaw in Florida’s fireworks ban, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

However, James Rosica of the Tampa Tribune reports the bill was temporarily postponed in the House Insurance and Banking subcommitee on Wednesday. 

Currently, state statutes limit sales of fireworks to relatively harmless sparklers while banning sales more powerful devices like bottle rockets.

A loophole permits the sale of explosive devices, as long as purchasers sign a waiver claiming exemption from the law for specific agricultural purposes. Turner writes that the bill will still require a signed waiver, but declaring they are buying fireworks for private use.

“This is the, ‘We’re done lying’ bill,” committee Chair Sen. Nancy Detert told the News Service.

Florida Fire Chiefs Association joined a few Senate committee members in opposing the bill, contending that the proposal would increase firework injuries and damage.

Sen. Gwen Margolis voted against the measure Wednesday as the Miami Democrat celebrated her 40th year in the Legislature. Margolis said the existing law came after “some really bad scenes” concerning fireworks.

Sen. Jeff Brandes introduced the legislation to enable individuals 16 years of age or older to purchase fireworks, requiring them to sign a waiver saying the fireworks are for personal use. The waiver would state they know fireworks could be harmful to both people and structures.

If passed, the bill will require retailers to carry at least $2 million in liability coverage, where cities and counties can determine their own regulations on firework sales.

“If they have concerns, fine, address that at the local level,” Brandes told the News Service.

According to Brandes, the current law is a “facade” with no age limit to purchase fireworks. Retailers have no pressure to justify the reasons why individuals are purchasing fireworks.

“This bill just says let’s stop the lying, let’s stop the facade,” said Brandes. “People are buying fireworks in communities today, they’re buying fireworks we specifically preempted that we specifically said we don’t want anybody using except for agricultural purposes.”

At a recent visit to a stand in Hillsborough County, Brandes purchased “mortar” rounds for $80, where “nobody cares whether you’re using them for an agriculture use or not.”

“I heard a bird chirp as I launched them off, and fly away, and clearly that was an agricultural use,” Brandes continued.

Brandes’ bill would put Florida’s age limit in line with other states.

Fire Chiefs Association representative Wayne Watts noted the potential damage from fireworks as he questioned the suggested age limits.

“I have a son who is 18 years old, he’s a responsible young man, he’s a scout, he’s been raised properly,” Watts said. “But even at 18 years old he doesn’t have the restraint at times to use these responsibly.”

“We’re talking about taking something that can have just as much damage as a gunshot and putting it in the hands of 16-year-olds,” he added.

Another measure (HB 4005) proposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz takes the fireworks issues one-step further, eliminating all state restrictions on sales, as well as eliminates from the law any definition of “sparklers” and “fireworks.”

If passed, the bill would make all fireworks legal in Florida unless banned by federal law; it would eliminate the state Fire Marshal’s role in testing and approving fireworks.

Gaetz’s legislation would keep Floridians from traveling to neighboring states to get aerial fireworks and explosives.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.