State News
5:42 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Lawmakers On Fireworks: Don’t Lie Let ‘Em Fly

Credit Azri Adnan http://goo.gl/Pra0Ia

Lawmakers are moving forward with a bill that would clear the way for Floridians to shoot off more fireworks.

Danny Carpenter owns his own company, D and D Fireworks.  But since he’s open for just a few weeks in the summer and a couple days around New Year’s, he spends the rest of his time selling something else.

Carpenter is also the owner of a few Tropical Smoothie locations around Tallahassee. He said selling fireworks just helps him earn a little extra cash. That and he’s always loved those colorful explosions.

“Our Christmas stocking was fireworks, In fact my dad, or Santa Claus, would fill a huge box full of fireworks and then take our stockings and just lay them on top of the box,” Carpenter said.

But Carpenter said people don’t buy fireworks as often as they once did. So during the offseason he doesn’t even keep them around, except for a few sparklers he keeps on hand for people to use at their weddings. He said because of regulations, keeping the biggest boomers around is expensive.  

And  right now, under Florida law, it’s only legal for residents to use fireworks like those for certain purposes, such as scaring birds away from crops. So, before they buy them, people have to sign a waiver agreeing to follow the rules.  And lawmakers worry about how that’s affecting Florida’s businesses. Some suggest people might cross state lines to buy pyrotechnics.  And Venice Republican Senator Nancy Detert said she thinks a lot of buyers just fib and sign the form anyway. Which is why she’s supporting a measure that would get rid that rule.

“This is the we’re doing lying bill. We’re just saying we’re going to use it and we’re not holding anybody else harmless,” Detert said.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Senator Jeff Brandes, repeals the current rule, but limits the sale of fireworks to those 16-years-old and older and creates some requirements about what kinds of insurance a fireworks retailer must carry. Other than that, Brandes said the state’s giving local governments the ability to make their own rules about the sale and use of fireworks.

But Carpenter said he’s not sure what the point of the change is.

“I would say out of 1,000 times of saying ‘I just need you to fill out this section here on this form,’ out of 1,000 customers, we may have four that say ‘well, I’m not signing that.’ And we says ‘okay, well I’m sorry, I can’t sell you these things.’ So, four out of 1,000 might have an issue with it, so we’ll pick up sales from those four people and I don’t think that’s going to really matter,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he’d be glad to see the insurance change if it’s actually enforced, because he says he thinks it’ll help to legitimize the business. But he said he’s also worried about the potential impact of local governments creating a patchwork of their own rules.

Meanwhile, Florida Fire Chiefs Association member Wayne Watts said he can’t imagine the outcome of the change being anything but negative. Watts said despite what some legislators say, the current law is not a farce.

“The fact of the matter is, if you sign a waiver saying you’re going to use it for agricultural purposes, and you use it otherwise, you are in violation of the law,” Watts said.

Watts said fireworks can be as dangerous as a gun. And he said putting that in the hands of kids as young as 16 is a mistake. Still, the Florida League of Cities said it’s onboard with the plan because its members like the idea of more local control. The measure passed its first committee hearing the Senate. The House version of the bill was scheduled for a hearing the same day, but officials postponed that discussion.

Follow Regan McCarthy on Twitter at @Regan_McCarthy.