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Thursday, August 21, 2014         

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Council will hear testimony today on fireworks ban

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

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Opponents of a consumer fireworks ban say the city should enforce the aerial fireworks prohibition already on the books before trying to add another law to the mix.

Bill 34 (2010), up for a public hearing before the City Council at 2 p.m. today, calls for a complete ban on all consumer fireworks, including firecrackers and sparklers. A majority of Council members appear to be undecided on the bill.

Local police and fire officials say consumer fireworks are harmful in their own right because of the fire, explosive and air quality issues that accompany them. But law enforcement officials also feel a total ban would make their job easier by allowing them to focus more on aerials.

Lobbyists for retailers and the fireworks industry disagree.

Banning consumer fireworks to stop aerials, something that is already illegal, does not make sense, said Lauren Zirbel, a representative for the Hawaii Food Industry Association.

Zirbel said the bill does not add anything new to enforcement of aerial fireworks, and to suggest that the job will be easier by banning all fireworks is disingenuous.

"It is not difficult to train individuals to tell the difference between a safe and sane consumer nonaerial item and a professional-grade aerial device," Zirbel said, noting that labeling and product size for both are different.

Jerry Farley, executive director for the Washington-state based Consumer Fireworks Safety Association and government affairs representative for American Promotional Events, a fireworks wholesaler, said, "What's been wrong has been a complete failure of enforcement." People caught setting off illegal aerials should be offered a chance at leniency in exchange for pointing police to their dealers, he said.

A total fireworks ban only encourages otherwise law-abiding citizens to break the law, especially in a community where fireworks are part of the cultural, religious and historic landscape as they are in Hawaii, Farley said.

"The law has to be carefully balanced to allow people a reasonable opportunity to do something," he said.

The fire department on each island is responsible for issuing permits for the importation, storing and sale of fireworks. But there is no government agency responsible for checking on when or where illegal fireworks enter the state.

Farley said it is unrealistic to think illegal fireworks can be enforced at the docks given the large number of shipping containers that come into Hawaii and the relatively small percentage of fireworks that might be arriving.

"It would be trying to find a needle in the haystack," he said.

Zirbel said another idea would be to turn fireworks violations from criminal to civil infractions, which might make it easier for officers to issue citations. Such a change would have to be done through the Legislature.

The city also could devote more personnel to the problem, but that would divert resources from other, perhaps more pressing concerns, Farley said.

State Rep. Marilyn Lee (D, Mililani) said the lobbyists are oversimplifying the situation by focusing on aerial fireworks when nonaerial consumer fireworks are the bigger problem.

Lee pointed to testimony from police and fire officials who said nonaerials are as big, if not a bigger, concern because of fireworks-related injuries and air quality issues experienced by asthmatics and others with respiratory problems.

"That's how children get hurt," Lee said. "They're not setting off aerials."






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