WEST CHESTER (August 12, 2019) – Pennsylvania’s fireworks law, which was loosened two years ago to allow larger and more powerful “Class C” fireworks, must be improved, tightened, and better regulated to protect the public, state Senator Andy Dinniman said.
Dinniman has introduced a legislative package of two bills to amend Pennsylvania’s fireworks law to improve public safety and address overall quality-of-life concerns, including the impacts of firework noise and light on senior citizens, young children, veterans, those with special needs, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and pets and animals.
“Fireworks can be fun when used safely and with respect for our neighbors, but all too often that’s not happening,” Dinniman said. “We need stronger and better laws to keep our suburban streets and more densely populated communities from sounding like war zones. The proliferation of these more powerful fireworks in the hands of uneducated or downright careless users has left many Pennsylvania residents and families on edge and potentially in harm’s way.”
The first bill calls for:
- Increasing the distance from an occupied structure, veterans facility, agricultural livestock building or dog kennel for using consumer fireworks from 150 ft. to 500 ft.
- Increasing penalties for violations from $100 to $1000 and increasing the offense to a misdemeanor.
- Limiting the use of consumer-grade fireworks on private property to specific times of day/year.
- Requiring reporting of emergency and fire incidents related to fireworks for collection in a database that can be referenced and utilized by all first responder disciplines.
- Providing the option to set local regulations for consumer fireworks.
The second bill calls for using a portion of the tax revenue generated by the sale of consumer fireworks to establish the Fireworks Safety Education Grant Program, a competitive grant available to organizations to be used to support and create firework safety awareness and education campaigns across the Commonwealth.
Currently, fireworks stores are not required to offer any instruction or guidance on safe or legal use to the consumer.
In 2017, language was added in Act 43, a tax code bill passed as part of the state budget process, to legalize consumer-grade fireworks including aerial devices like bottle rockets and roman candles, as well as powerful firecrackers containing up to 50 milligrams of explosive material. Previously, Pennsylvania law only allowed sparklers and non-airborne novelties.
The measure was designed to fill a budget gap by raising revenue through expanded licensing and fees, including a 12 percent tax on sales of consumer fireworks, in addition to the state’s traditional 6 percent sales tax.
Dinniman, who voted against the measure, noted that stand-alone bills to liberalize Pennsylvania’s fireworks law have failed.
“This came through the backdoor at the tail end of the budget process,” he said. “Many residents weren’t even aware of it until fireworks started exploding above and around their homes.”
Dinniman, who said his office worked with burn prevention organizations in drafting the bills, said communities across the commonwealth have seen a skyrocketing number of complaints since the legalization of larger and more powerful fireworks has taken effect.
Dinniman has been joined by a growing number of bipartisan legislators, including state Senators Robert Tomlinson, Judy Schwank and Kim Ward calling to rein in the availability and use of fireworks in the Commonwealth.
“Something needs to be done and lawmakers from both parties must work together to get it done,” he said.
Currently, Pennsylvania statistics on fireworks-related fires, injuries and deaths are simply not calculated and stored in a centralized place.
However, in 2018, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated 9,100 fireworks-related, emergency department-treated injuries, with 62 percent of them occurring during the month surrounding the Fourth of July.
In that same year, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand took a consensus position that “firework use should be limited to professional display; explosive materials should only be handled by professionals.”