A 2-1 vote comes amid concerns that cultural beliefs are being ignored
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 6, 2010
A final vote on an islandwide consumer fireworks ban will be taken by the City Council on Aug. 18, even with the fate of the bill uncertain.
The Council Public Safety and Services Committee voted 2-1 yesterday to advance Bill 34 (2010) after a lengthy discussion. Councilman Gary Okino, who authored the bill, joined Public Safety Chairman Lee Donohue in supporting the ban.
But Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who had supported the bill previously, voted against the measure yesterday. She said she was moved by testimony citing the religious and cultural significance of firecrackers for local Chinese.
Councilman Rod Tam, who is not on the committee, tried to insert into the bill language allowing for firecrackers through a permit for cultural and religious purposes.
"I don't recognize the use of fireworks when they burn it on the streets," Tam said.
But Donohue and Okino voted down that plan.
After the meeting, Donohue said he and colleagues who support the bill will consider changes that would make the bill more palatable to other Council members.
"I like the way it is right now, but we're open to any suggestions," he said.
Donohue and other supporters of the bill, including the chiefs of police, fire and emergency services, want a ban in place before the 2011 New Year's holiday.
Several members of the Chinese community spoke in favor of including an exemption for cultural and religious ceremonies.
Lauren Zirbel, a representative for the Hawaii Food Industry Association, said people would be "forced to break the law" to practice their religious and cultural beliefs if a ban is implemented.
But Ann Freed, who supports the ban, said the dangers and health issues associated with fireworks should not be subjugated by cultural and religious concerns. "When culture impedes on health and safety, culture needs to go," Freed said.
Under the ban, display fireworks would still be allowed by permit. A change to the bill approved yesterday makes it clear that display fireworks may be permitted for sporting events and theatrical productions.
Violators of the ban would be sentenced to up to a $2,000 fine and a year in prison.