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Fireworks bill up for vote

The City Council will consider the measure that limits the poppers

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 4:16 p.m. HST, Sep 22, 2010

City Council members will try today to pass a consumer fireworks law for Oahu that falls short of a complete ban.

The latest version of the bill would still allow adults to pay $25 for city permits to buy up to 5,000 firecrackers per permit. But there would be a ban on all other consumer fireworks -- from sparklers to so-called "paperless" firecrackers.

Council members, worried about health issues, first discussed whether there should be a total ban on consumer fireworks, leaving holiday pyrotechnics to professionals who produce aerial fireworks displays.

The fire and police chiefs, as well as health officials, backed that idea.

But "a total ban wasn't going to go," said Councilman Lee Donohue, chairman of the Public Safety Committee and a longtime proponent of a total ban.

Donohue and Councilman Gary Okino crafted the latest version to meet the issues raised by the opposition.

"It seems like (this version) appears to be most palatable to all, a majority anyway," Donohue said yesterday. "It allows for firecrackers, but it doesn't allow for much more than that."

Consumers would still be able to buy firecracker permits for New Year's, Chinese New Year and the Fourth of July, as well as for religious and cultural purposes. A segment of the Chinese-American community argues that it is customary to set off firecrackers during events such as annual cemetery visits, known as Ching Ming, to scare off evil spirits.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who has been on the fence about the bill, reiterated yesterday that she would support stricter fireworks legislation only if it included cultural exemptions.

"I certainly want to preserve those exemptions," Kobayashi said.

Council Chairman Todd Apo said he expects the latest version of Bill 34, or something based on it, to pass. Some Council members want sparklers to continue to be permitted, he said.

"I think there's a recognition that we should do something to limit the free-for-all that happens (during holidays)," Apo said. "We realize this just may be a starting point, but we need to do something."

The Council took up the fireworks bill for a final vote last month but held off when it appeared its nine members were split on the issue.

Besides cultural and religious concerns, opponents of stricter fireworks legislation say the biggest fireworks-related issues could be addressed by stricter enforcement of existing laws governing illegal aerials.

Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and successor Kirk Caldwell both supported a ban. Acting Mayor Caldwell would have 10 days to act on the measure.

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